It has been a long while since I've read a book that has so utterly, irrevocably blown me away. Don't get me wrong, I've read a lot of good books that I did legitimately enjoy, but recently none of have struck me quite as hard as Chloe Gong's These Violent Delights. Gong seamlessly takes classic, beloved tropes and twists them with something so new, and so utterly refreshing that it's impossible for this book to not leave a lasting impact on you.
I love a good trope— am an absolute sucker for all the classics, especially, especially, ESPECIALLY enemies to lovers and all the variations of it. I also adore the whole betrayal but the other one doesn't know the whole story so they hate each other but they don't trope. And I also love the second chance romances. Basically what I'm trying to get to is that this book has all of my favorite tropes rolled into one perfect, neat package. And I enjoyed it immensely.
These Violent Delights has everything you could want from a book and more— there's a badass female character, a clever, empathetic but equally badass male lead, there' star-crossed/forbidden love, gang rivalries, 1920's Shanghai, heart stopping action scenes, a dark monster murder mystery, representation— both LGBTQ+ and Chinese! Honestly like this book has everything, and it in no way feels like it's pandering to just fit it all in, it's all meant to be there, fitting seamlessly together.
The book sucks you into a the glitzy 1920's in Shanghai, opening up to expose the dark, cruel and gritty underbelly of the city. The world is so rich, and with every additional word Gong pulls you deeper into the intricately crafted setting she has created. Right from the first page, you are truly immersed in the world. I don't know what it is about Gong's writing, but it sucks you right in, and makes you feel like you're actually there, experiencing it all. So much thought and depth has been added to everything— characters, settings, plot lines— that nothing could ever be thought of as flat. This book has so many dimensions, and that just adds to the immersive experience it has to offer.
The story follows a cast of characters, our main two being Juliette and Roma— the heirs to the cities rival gangs. If you couldn't tell, the story is a loose retelling of the timeless classic, Romeo and Juliet, only so much more enriching and intriguing.
"The stars incline us, they do not bind us."
I adore our main characters. As mentioned previously, Juliette is a total badass, and I love her for it. She's smart, strong willed, and everything you could want from a female protagonist. Plus she's Chinese. Growing up, I would've loved reading more with protagonists who looked like me, and I'm so happy to see more books like that becoming popular in the reading world. It's also so much fun to watch her struggle against her emotions for our other main character— Roma. I will definitely say that you get to know Juliette far better than you do Roma in this novel (the majority of the book is her perspective), but from everything I've seen and gotten from him, I'm already so, so utterly in love. He's sweet and caring, but forced to survive in a cruel world. I savored every moment with had with him.
In our cast of side characters we have Benedikt, Marshall, Kathleen and Rosalind. If you've read Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare's Version) you may get enjoyment from the names! I know I did. Benedikt and Marshall are Roma's friends, while Kathleen and Rosalind are Juliette's. Despite not seeing them all too often (especially Rosalind) they have very distinct personalities that easily separates them from a sea of forgettable side characters seen throughout the history of books. It was a pleasure unraveling more of their stories and connections with each other, no matter how much strain or tension there might be. I especially enjoyed Kathleen's story.
"Those who do not care, those who are violent, those who delight in that which is terrible"— Marshall shrugged, waving his hands about as he chose the right words— "they thrive. They come outside."
The plot itself was intriguing— it felt impossible to put the book down. And then there was the writing itself— it was beautiful and so utterly enrapturing. Like I said before, it really pulls you into the novel, and you actually feel like you're there. It's been a while since I've loved an author's prose as much as I enjoyed Gong's. It was beautiful writing, but not dense or heavy— easily to read, and easy to fall into.
I don't think I could recommend this book any more. 8/10 stars, it was a delight to read, and I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the next one. It brought a refreshing twist to beloved tropes, enthralling the reader in an entirely new and enrapturing world with badass, lovable characters and a gripping plot.
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.
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.