Book Review: These Violent Delights (eARC)

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton  

Pages: 464

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang-a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns-and grudges-aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My first impression of These Violent Delights was that Chloe Gong is a spellbinding writer. The first chapter had me hooked with its stunning writing and intriguing premise. As an English Literature graduate, I was all in for a Shakespeare retelling. Romeo and Juliet is a classic tale, and Chloe Gong has crafted an excellent reimagining which uses the themes from the original in an interesting way. I loved that this isn’t the story of them falling in love, but rather of them meeting again after years apart following a tragedy that caused a rift between them. There are also other references to the original Shakespeare play which are very satisfying.

Chloe Gong does an absolutely brilliant job of making the setting come to life. I felt immersed in 1920s Shanghai, in terms of the sights, smells and sounds, but also in terms of the history. I didn’t know much about the history of Shanghai before reading this book, and enjoyed discovering something new. As well as being about romance and the mystery, These Violent Delights also explores very important themes, such as political divides, colonisation and culture. Sometimes I feel like in retellings the stories are transposed to a different time period and/or setting for the sake of it, just as a way to twist the story, but in this case the choice of 1920s Shanghai really worked as an alternate setting for Romeo and Juliet. The story melded with the setting so well. This is an excellent example of how setting, plot, theme and character can intertwine very effectively.  

Juliette was my favourite character as I found her story so interesting. For her, being the heiress to the Scarlet Gang is about protecting her people. She’s also confident, bold and unafraid to pull the trigger, but we also get to see some other sides of her too as the book progresses. I didn’t connect with Roma as much, although I did enjoy seeing Roma and Juliette’s evolving relationship as they are forced to work together. They didn’t seem to have that much time together on page, so I didn’t feel as emotionally invested in their pairing as I had hoped. The other characters were all well depicted and came together to make a great overall cast. There is also a brewing romance between two male side characters which I was totally rooting for!

The mystery is intriguing though I did start finding the book a bit slow at one point, but then it picked up again for a suspenseful finale. Then comes a big twist right at the very end, on the last page, just when I thought everything was resolved!    

There are some gory moments. As mentioned in the synopsis, a contagion is spreading through Shanghai that causes people to claw out their own throats. There is a lot of detail and blood. After the first couple of times I starting skimming over the graphic descriptions because it was just too much for me. There are also insects involved in the spreading of the contagion which was quite grim. So I would bear this in mind when deciding whether or not this book is for you.

These Violent Delights puts an excellent spin on the well-known tale of Romeo and Juliet and is a very strong debut. I will certainly be looking out for future works by Chloe Gong.

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