Thank you to Margaret K. McElderry Books for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All quotes are from an advance copy and are subject to change in final publication.
Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Chloe Gong
Publication Date: November 17th, 2020
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: Digital ARC via publisher
Age Range & Genre: YA, historical fantasy, romance
Content warnings: murder, gore, violence, death, loss of loved ones, disease/sickness, self-harm & suicide, transphobia, racism, colonialism, insects
Synopsis: 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.
(Zuko voice) Hello, English major here. For those of you who might be new to the party, I happen to be an English major who really does not like Shakespeare. I definitely appreciate a lot of Shakey Boi’s work and the impact he’s had on language and storytelling, but he’s just not my fave. Chloe Gong and These Violent Delights, however, are an entirely different story. In fact, Gong may have made a Shakespeare fan of me yet.
This was her life, this was her city, these were her people, and because she loved them, she had sworn to herself a long time ago that she would do a damn good job of being who she was because she could be no one else.
5 Reasons to Read These Violent Delights
- These Violent Delights revitalizes Shakespeare’s plot, themes, and motifs in a way that honors his legacy, but this is undeniably Chloe Gong’s story. These Violent Delights is truly a retelling in its purest form. Gong takes the foundation from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet that has made it so well-known, and expands on it with her original ideas and twists and reimagining of such an iconic story. Rather than have the blood feud tear apart the lovers and protagonists of the book, Gong adds an outside threat to the city of Shanghai that forces Roma and Juliette to think of the bigger picture and set their own personal feelings aside in order to save the place they both call home. There are added layers that combine to make the story richer and more complex, as Juliette and Roma both reflect on the different ways they don’t belong, and contend with imperialist influences trying to take control and force their way into Shanghai.
- Privilege can be a weapon, and Juliette Cai is not afraid to use it. Roma is a sweetheart and I absolutely love him, don’t get me wrong, but Juliette completely stole the show for me from page one – and I know I’m not alone in that. She is a protagonist that I have rarely seen before: one who sits comfortably in her privilege and actively uses it for her own personal gain and the benefit of those close to her. Even Roma, heir to the opposing White Flowers, cannot compare to the sense of innate power and authority that Juliette wields. Juliette knows that being the heiress, the princess of Shanghai, is her birthright, and whatever internal doubts she may harbor, she sure as hell is going to act like it. At the same time, we see the very real ramifications of Juliette’s privilege in her family members who lack the security she has as heir of the Scarlet Gang. Her privilege is something that can protect and harm her loved ones in a single blow, and that’s something Juliette fails to realize as a result of (you guessed it) that same privilege. While I’m obviously dying to know what happens after the cliffhanger These Violent Delights ends on, I’m also extremely intrigued about Juliette’s ongoing recognition of her privilege and its effects, and for her to have to contend with the harm she’s done to others in trying to do a good deed.
- Chloe Gong’s writing is unbelievably lush and descriptive in a way that really gets under your skin. (If you know, you know.) In fact, I am so in love with Gong’s writing that I could use all of the positive adjectives I know and still feel like I’m not quite conveying just how much I enjoy it. Not only is Chloe Gong a master wordsmith, but she – and subsequently Juliette – pulls absolutely no punches when it comes to her criticism of imperialism and white supremacy, and she does it with incredible flair. There are some subtle and not as subtle nods to Shakespeare interwoven throughout the book that make it even more enjoyable for those familiar with work, even if they’re not fans of Shakey Boi himself. Mix the fun of seeing those iconic lines with Gong’s own humor and creativity and you get one of the most well-written books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
- The romance, while heartbreakingly beautiful, is only one of the many factors that make These Violent Delights so memorable. Juliette and Roma absolutely own me, but what solidified These Violent Delights as one of my all-time favorites was its social commentary. Subtle but nonetheless sinister, the thinly veiled threat of Western invasion is just as insidious as the mysterious threat lurking in the Huangpu River. Gong manages to create a physical manifestation of the threat imposed by Western forces that is terrifying to say the least, but one that we also see Juliette picking up on in other areas as she re-familiarizes herself with the home she was forced to flee. Thanks to her Western education, Juliette is better equipped than most to recognize the influence of the West in Shanghai, as well as the severe consequences it will have on her city and her loved ones. A monster born out of science-fiction and nightmares is easy to identify and easier still to blame, but what of the puppet masters pulling their strings? And what happens when these villains feel all too familiar?
- Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are not the only stars of the show. As heirs of rival gangs, it’s of the utmost importance that both Juliette and Roma have people they can trust with their lives. For Juliette, those two people are her cousins, Kathleen and Rosalind. For Roma, it’s his cousin, Benedikt, and White Flowers adoptee Marshall. I fell in love with this cast of characters in record time. To create two compelling leads who captivate a reader’s heart equally is a feat in itself, but to create an entire cast that the audience can root for?? Absolutely amazing. Even more than our main leads, Kathleen, Rosalind, Benedikt, and Marshall show us what’s going on in the streets of Shanghai and what it means to be human, to struggle and have flaws and be vulnerable in more ways than one. Juliette and Roma’s relationship is the perfect combination of yearning and angst, but their individual relationships with the other narrators round out These Violent Delights with something to offer everyone.