These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

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.

*****

Review:

Long have I awaited for a book like this!! These Violent Delights hits almost every one of my favorite tropes and settings and six months later, I’m still in awe that such a book exists in the western publishing sphere! An unapologetically Chinese setting (1920’s Shanghai), an shamelessly “villainous” MC, and an lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers tropes: I was guaranteed to love this book!

I’ll get to how delightfully Chinese this book was in a moment, but I want to first start with how much I adore Juliette’s character. One of my favorite character archetypes is the unabashedly “villainous” main leads and I’ve been burned more than a few times by these supposed characters in YA novels. Not Here. Juliette Cai is ruthless, blood-thirsty, and relentless with her goals and she’s willing to let the whole world know. Gong is unapologetic with Juliette’s ruthless characterization. There’s no self-doubt, there’s no last minute regrets, certainly no dramatic chapter long monologues about how terrified she is of the “dark inside herself”. Juliette Cai is a battle-hardened asshole and we all love her for it.

Now for the setting! Ahhhhh the setting. The vibrancy 1920s Shanghai! The quick untranslated phrases snuck in here and there. The shameless pronunciation guide to Juliette’s last name, disguised as a flowery metaphor. As a Chinese-American reader slowly rediscovering my roots, I am in love with how unabashedly Chinese this book feels. There was a reason this book was one my most highly anticipated in 2020 and I’m so happy to say it’s lived up to the hype. I’m not even joking when I say I read the first half with giant grin on my face because I couldn’t believe a Western publishing house was willing to put money and marketing behind a book so closely depicting my culture.

I was quite surprised with how much I loved the writing style. I find a lot of YA novels, especially debuts, have a rather plain and sometime boring prose, but the writing in These Violent Delights is surprisingly flowery! Given this story is based off Romeo and Juliet, I think it was a really good decision to give an added degree of atmosphere and gravitas to the reader without taking away from the story itself. There was a phrasing here or there that I thought a little clunky but overall, it was a really nice change of pace!

I think my one complain is that the pacing about three quarters felt a little rushed. The introduction and setup are just phenomenal, and the second quarter of Juliette and Roma “re-uniting” and perpetually bickering at each other while the larger story unfolds is so beautifully done that the third quarter kind of sags under the weight of the plot threads that have to be pulled together for the conclusion. Without going into spoilers, some of Juliette’s actions taken did feel a little contrived, like they were more forced upon her to move the plot from point A to point B (please use your brain more). With all that being said, however, the final quarter and the ending are just so magnificent and gut-wrenching (this is a Romeo and Juliette retelling after all) that any faults are easily ignored for the bigger picture.

Overall, I rate this book a 4.5/5. A magnificent blood-thirsty protagonist in Juliette Cai, a delightful lovers-to-enemies-to-…lovers(?) relationship between Juliette and Roma, one of the best and most heart-wrenching endings I’ve ever read, and a setting steeped in Chinese culture. One of my favorite reads of 2020 and I await the sequel in great anticipation.


r/Fantasy 2021-2022 Bingo Squares:

  • Set in Asia (hard mode)
  • Mystery Plot
  • Debut Novel

Publication Date: 17 November 2020
Publisher: Margaret K McElderry Books
Format: eBook
Pages: 449
Word Count: ~133,000
ISBN: 1534457690 
Buy It Here: Amazon Google Books | Barnes and Nobles | Goodreads

2 thoughts on “These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

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