Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

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.*

*Summary from Goodreads

Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Chloe Gong
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Targeted Age Range: Young Adult
Representation: Predominately Chinese cast, Gay side characters
Trigger Warnings: Mentions and descriptions of blood, violence, gore, character deaths, transphobia, explicit description of gouging self (not of their own volition), murder, weapon use, insects, alcohol consumption, parental abuse.
Rating:  ★★★★★

I love all things Shakespeare and I love retellings. When I heard that a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1926 Shanghai was being released, I could not hit that want to read button on Goodreads fast enough. I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release for so long now, that whenever someone asked me what books I was looking forward to reading, my immediate response was, “These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong”. I’d been counting down the days, and I was incredibly lucky that my countdown was cut short when my pre-order arrived a full week before the official release. I couldn’t wait to start it. 

It’s been about a week now since I finished These Violent Delights and honestly, I am still trying to wrap my head around it! After I finished it, I set the book down and simply said, “Wow”, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been saying since. That being said, I will try to formulate my thoughts into actual words because I am obsessed with this book.

Chloe Gong’s debut novel is a triumph. It honestly BLOWS my mind that this is her debut novel and that she’s an undergrad. She created such a rich and complex story; I might be just a little bit scared of her and her brilliance. Something that, in my opinion, she did masterfully was taking some of the most iconic moments of Romeo and Juliet, and using them in a new and fresh way that seamlessly fit into the story she was creating. There were so many moments while reading where I could clearly see the Shakesperian influence, but it was done in a way that was so different and unexpected. It’s difficult to pull inspiration from Shakespeare and not simply imitate, but Chloe took that inspiration and made it into something completely new. It really was done brilliantly. One example of this that I thought was particularly clever was the use of the poison from the original story. Without giving much away, I thought that the way Chloe incorporated it was very smart.

The writing is amazing! Everything was so detailed and vivid, I honestly felt like I was walking the streets of Shanghai with the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers. I’ve said this before on the blog, but I love books where I can really feel like I’m part of the story, and I felt like I was part of this story. That did mean that I was clearly able to visualize these gruesome deaths, which, while very intense, also made me even more invested in wanting to figure out how this madness was sweeping the city. The writing is also incredibly funny – there were so many times where I was laughing out loud. This was especially appreciated because there is so much death, you need some humor to balance that and there’s a good balance. Upon the first read, some of my favorite quotes that made me laugh were:

“You know me. Running around. Living life. Committing arson.”
“I see eyes, but I see no brain”
“You saw a stranger for two seconds on the street, please calm down”
“Facing the human equivalent of stale bread”
“Very well. Keep your secrets. Do you have a window we could jump from?”
“I’m Russian, not an alcoholic. Why am I on the floor?”

The characters are fantastically written! Each character is fully fleshed out and full of life. The inspiration from Romeo and Juliet is there, you can see who these characters were molded after, but they are completely their own. Juliette is an absolute badass, I love her and am maybe a bit obsessed with her. It’s fine. She’s strong. witty, clever, cunning, and she feels everything even if she acts like she doesn’t. She’s sassy as anything and I would like to be her best friend. When we talk about wanting strong female characters, this is what we mean. For as many good traits as Juliette has, she also has her faults and that makes her real. Roma is focused and determined and fiercely protective of those that he loves, all of which are traits that I admire. He and Juliette have wonderful chemistry. Their banter was one of my favorite parts of the book because they worked off of each other so well. I loved them and their relationship. To be honest, they definitely give me some Bonnie and Clyde vibes, but Juliette is absolutely Clyde.

All of the other characters were wonderfully written as well. I am especially fond of Marshall and Benedikt and their dynamic. Honestly, I ship them so hard and if they don’t get together in the sequel I will be very upset. “Marshall was only ever sensible when he was trying to keep Benedikt away from trouble” with lines like that, honestly how could you not? And there’s a moment at the end that just made me…become the human equivalent of the gasping emoji with the hands on the face and then turn into the crying emoji and the heart eye emoji mixed together. Basically, I just really love them and I’m hoping we get the Mercutio/Benvolio romance that we deserve. I also loved Rosalind and Kathleen, and their family dynamic is very interesting, I can’t really say more without giving it away but I would love to know more about their side of the family as well because it was very interesting!

The last like seven chapters of the book were absolutely insane, in the best way. I was on the edge of my seat (well figuratively since I was lying in bed while reading in it) and I was so anxious to find out what was going to happen next that there were times where I had to slow down and remind myself not to skip ahead in my haste to know what happened next. The whole thing was absolutely wild from start to finish, my mind is still reeling. And since I am anxiously awaiting the sequel, I will just be here rereading These Violent Delights over and over again.

These Violent Delights is a gripping, thrilling, and masterful debut novel. A resounding 5 stars from me, and easily one of my favorite (if not favorite) releases of 2020.

Goodreads | TheStorygraph | Bookshop | Indie Bound 


About the Author

Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and International Relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times. You can find her on Twitter @thechloegong, check out her website at thechloegong.com or email her at chloegongwrites@gmail.com.

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