These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is the first book in the series, and let me tell you: it’s off to a great start. It’s a Romeo and Juliet retelling, but it’s also so much more than that. There’s violence, a monster, Shanghai’s political situation, and a slowly burning (re-burning?) romance between Roma and Juliette.
So, a little bit about the author: Chloe Gong studied in America, lives in New Zealand, and has relatives living in Shanghai. And obviously, she loves Romeo and Juliet and considers it one of Shakespeare’s best plays. Considering this, it’s really no surprise that she wrote ‘These Violent Delights,’ nor that it takes place in Shanghai, nor that the main character got an American education.
Continue reading for the full book review, or click here to jump to the conclusion.
Genre: NA Historical Fantasy Romance, Retelling | Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
In Shanghai, 1926, the city is in the grips of chaos, with a blood feud between two gangs turning the streets red. On the one hand, we have the heir of the Scarlet Gang, Juliette Cai. Their rival is the White Flowers, with their heir Roma Montagov. He’s Julliette’s first love and first betrayal. But things turn dark when an incomprehensible madness has gangsters on both sides clawing out their own throats. Whispers of a monster fill the streets. Roma and Juliette are forced to set aside their grudges and guns to work together so that they can stop the madness. If they fail, there won’t be a city for them left to rule.
Violent, bloody, and exciting: that’s these violent delights. Gong keeps us on our feet, trying to figure out what the monster is, how the madness spreads, and who’s behind it all. With every clue uncovered, we get closer, yet things also get more and more complicated.
And most of all, we wonder: what actually happened between Roma and Juliette? What did Roma do, and why did he do it?
As you can see: that’s a lot of questions. A lot is going on in the story, and it’s also pretty fast-paced. Yet, at some points, it did feel somewhat slow. While all the scenes seemed to have a purpose and increased the tension of the story, I feel some of them could’ve been packed together or omitted. It’s possible that, because the story switches viewpoints between different characters, the reader sometimes gets too much information, and it would’ve been more exciting to have less information and be surprised.
Related to that: These Violent Delights does have some good twists at the end, but they weren’t completely unexpected. I didn’t have a moment that really knocked me off my feet.
The characters all have a voice of their own, and a unique way of seeing the world and each other. That’s what I loved most about Juliette and Roma: both think they know the other through and through until the cracks start to show in their facade.
Juliette was born in Shanghai yet send to America to get a Western education. Even though she’s back now, she still dresses more ‘American,’ and everyone uses her Western name instead of her Chinese one. I loved these details, as it really shows that Juliette doesn’t quite fit in in either country: too Eastern for America, too Western for Shanghai. It’s how she’s become so good at adapting and playing the part she has to play to get what she wants. It’s why she has to be more ruthless: to gain respect.
Roma is a very different character, more calm and level-headed. Even though he’s also the heir, he’s rarely shown to be violent or use violence to get what he wants. He’s more withdrawn, less easy for other people to read.
There are more than just their viewpoint in the story, occasionally shifting to Kathleen, Marshall, or Benedict (or others). I love that Chloe put some queer representation in there, without it feeling forced. When we meet Kathleen, it’s just a simple line or two about how she has this necklace to take away the attention from her Adam’s apple. That’s all the information we need. We learn more about her backstory later in the book, but that’s put there because it has a function within the story. It’s not there just to have it in there; it’s there to show the reader why Kathleen is loyal to Juliette. It helps us understand why she does the things she does.
And that’s just good writing.
As for the setting, Gong does such a wonderful job in describing Shanghai. I loved the phrases describing Shanghai more as a person than a city, the troubles it’s in, the invaders all trying to get a piece of a foreign city. She paints a clear picture and gives the necessary details. We even get some political insight, particularly focused on the rise of communism, but it’s never boring (at least, I didn’t find it boring).
The actual monster seems somewhat elusive at first but becomes clearer throughout the story. With all the detail Gong added, the story of the monster even seems plausible. The spreading of the madness and how it works is explained with enough detail as well.
The prose in These Violent Delights is beautiful. Especially the descriptions of Shanghai were like poetry. Loved it.
A powerful feat in this book was the effortless zooming in and out as Gong tells the story. That’s not easy to do well, yet we go seamlessly from a wide frame of the city to within the character’s mind.
I do feel the story was a bit heavy on the telling sometimes. Just a bit too often where we get stated how a character feels or what happened. This kept me from fully engaging with the characters.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is a wonderfully crafted story, full of mystery, a brooding romance, and dark, complex characters. The setting is fantastic, right within a changing city that has so much history. It’s a very original way to portray the classic Romeo and Juliet, and it still has the themes of love, hate, and loyalty. Gong really nailed it. The characters are amazing and unique, and there’s some beautiful prose throughout.
What I am less enthusiastic about is that I feel sometimes we get too much information. I think some of the twists were less surprising and had less effect than they could’ve had. That said, I have to admit it’s also not that easy to surprise me anymore.
I also felt there was a bit too much telling going on at times, which kept me from engaging fully with the characters. There are also a bit too many viewpoints throughout for my taste. I do have to say that the switching between viewpoints and the ‘distance’ we have from the characters was seamless, which isn’t easy to do.
Short story shorter: These Violent Delights is a great book, and if you love morally grey characters, mystery, tension, monsters, violence, historical settings, and a hate-love romance, then please, please, read this book. You won’t be disappointed.
Have you read These Violent Delights? Are you going to? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!