Shanghai is under siege in this captivating and searingly romantic sequel to These Violent Delights, which New York Times bestselling author Natasha Ngan calls “deliciously dark.”
The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.
After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.
Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.
Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.
I received an ARC of this book through Turn the Page Book Tours and the publisher, Margaret K. McElderry Books. All thoughts are my own.
This review will contain spoilers for Book 1, These Violent Delights. Read my review here.
I… think I’m devastated. These Violent Delights was one of my favorite reads of 2020 and probably my favorite YA novel, so I had such *such* high hopes for the sequel. Sadly, I found myself struggling and struggling to finish this book, until I finally sat down one day to sit down and just forced the last 70% down. As I’m going to spend most of the review talking about what I didn’t like and what I think went wrong, I will touch broadly on major plot points. So, for those looking to completely avoid spoilers, don’t read this review.
So what didn’t I like? Surprisingly, a lot of it. The plot lines felt repetitive and at times, completely unnecessary. The dialogue felt oddly forced at time (I can applaud Gong for trying to include some of the lines from the original Shakespeare, but when you’ve got characters talking like normal teens at one moment, then spitting verse in Old English the next, it’s gonna come off weird). Some of the actions taken felt like they were forced in to match the major plot points from the original R&J, but didn’t feel authentic to the actual characters. Mostly importantly, though, I felt that there was no real development from book 1 to book, that the characters hadn’t really progressed anywhere.
So lets unpack these one by one, and I’ll start with the overarching plotlines. We open with a new monster in town, with both the Scarlets and the White Flowers being blackmailed over the threat of new monster attack. Roma and Juliette, being their respective gang’s most familiar members with these monsters, quickly begin investigating the perpetrators. Naturally, their actions lead them revolving each others circles, but with the bitterness of the ending of Book 1 fresh in their minds. Their investigations lead to a series of revelations that, up until the 50% mark, seem extremely plot relevant.
However! After about halfway through, the Nationalists make their move! Throughout the first half, there’s been (very) quiet rumblings about Nationalist vs Communist movements and their rivalries. Then suddenly, the plot shifts and the Nationalist take over. It felt like everything that Roma and Juliette had spent the first half the book working was just ignored for this new political development. Yes there was occasional reference to the first half but like, the monsters are still at large at this point. That blackmailer is still completely unknown, And yet it seems there’s no movements from said blackmailer nor any concern given to them by the gangs nor the military powers despite them still being the most powerful playing card in this field. I wish these two storylines were more intertwined in a way that didn’t feel like, Story A, Story B, end. (Admittedly, I also didn’t like the inclusion of the monsters in the sequel at all and maintain that the story would have been much more interested if it focused entirely on the politics and gang wars).
Because this is a Romeo and Juliette retelling, the major plot points of Romeo and Juliette do occur. Namely, events like Romeo and Tybalt’s duel, Juliette’s faked death, etc. However, because of the monster chasing in the first half, these events feel very much crammed into the second half of the book, with characters making decisions that feel designed only to force events along. (This was a criticism I had for parts of the first book as well.)
From external conflict, let’s also talk about the internal conflicts of Juliette and Roma. Book 2 is very Juliette-centric, so I’ll focus on her. Mainly, I’ll focus on what felt like her utter static-ness as a character. I praised Juliette in my book 1 review because I loved how refreshing it was to see an unapologetically villainous female YA lead. However, the Juliette of book 1 felt like the same Juliette of book 2, despite how much she’s been through. Book 1’s Juliette was worried about her relationship with Roma, her about her parents catching the two together. Book 2’s Juliette is likewise worried about her relationship with Roma, and her parents catching the two of them together. In fact, since Rosalind and Kathleen are stuck on the backburner in this book, it felt like her only important emotional turnoils were Roma and her relationship with her parents.
As for the relationship between Roma and Juliette, I did enjoy the two of them together. Gong has developed a phenomenal chemistry between the two of them and, when not arguing, the two are a straight up power couple. However, I do really really hate the on-off, get-together-break-apart trope in romance and I think the two of them do it like, three different times. At some point, you really just want to shove them in a room and yell, TALK TO EACH OTHER.
I’ve talked with some friends reading this ARC as well, and I think our general consensus is that this sequel felt like it needed more editing. It was difficult to write this review because I found it hard to really properly pinpoint exactly what made this so difficult to read, because of so much of it felt like it was almost there! The characters are interesting, the writing style is beautifully done, the worldbuilding for 1920s Shanghai is excellent. So why were all of us struggling when everything is almost there?? A truly difficult situation to explain.
Overall, I must rate this book a 2/5. I adored book 1 and desperately wanted to love this too, but the pacing and what felt like a pointless first arc, paired with flat characters and forced plot points led me to struggle.
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