There are times when you finish a book and all you can do is sit in silence.
Today, I’m here to review (and convince you all to read) These Violent Delights, a highly anticipated book I’m sure all of you have heard of and have been counting down the days until. When I reached the end of it, I lay on my couch in silence with a feeling in my chest akin to the release of a held breath, a sense of awe washing over me as the full weight of the book and everything in it sunk in. And I can’t wait for you all to feel the same way about it too.
Also, I’m mentioning this for absolutely no reason at all, but… tomorrow (Nov 17) is my birthday, aka this book’s release date, so maybe you could buy this book and get a 21-year-old Asian author on the NYT bestselling list as a cool birthday gift to me!!!
Chloe Gong || November 17, 2020
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.
published by Simon & Schuster, classified as Young Adult Historical
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a spot on this blog tour! This did not affect my opinions in any way.
All quotes are from an advance copy and may differ in final publication.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chloe Gong is a student 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 when “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” is chanted into a mirror three times.
Backdropped by 1926 Shanghai humming with life and debauchery, These Violent Delights follows Juliette Cai, heir to the Scarlet Gang, who watches angrily as her city falls further into the clutches of white foreigners. Equally as worrying as the threat of colonialism is the sudden appearance of a monster that causes people to tear out their own throats. The only way Juliette can defeat the monster and save her people is to work with Roma Montagov, heir to the rival Russian White Flowers and the boy she once loved—before he betrayed her.
This book was one of my most anticipated releases for 2020, and it’s safe to say it did not disappoint. I can already tell that it’s going to end up on a lot of people’s “best of 2020” list, and it’s clear why. With an arresting exploration of colonialism and compelling characters to obsess over, this debut historical fantasy marks Chloe Gong as an author to look out for in the coming years.
This was a city shrouded in blood. It was foolish to try changing it.
Gong’s writing brings 1920s Shanghai to life in all its glittering glory. Her beautiful prose is full of details that make you feel as if you yourself are walking down the crowded streets of the city or sitting in the back of a lively nightclub, but in a way that doesn’t bog down the story. I have difficulty reading books that are descriptive because they tend to be overly flowery and slow me down, but Gong’s writing flowed easily and allowed for an immersive reading experience.
Before settling in to read this book, I’d predicted that I would fall in love with Juliette Cai—and I was right. She is cunning and ruthless, unafraid to do what she has to protect her people, and wholeheartedly invited to step on me. Juliette was also sent to live and grow up in the US for a large part of her life, and I loved the portrayal of how she struggles with feeling out of place in Shanghai, from her style of dressing to her name to the way she speaks her language, even though she is far more Chinese than the white foreigners around her.
Roma Montagov, on the other hand, wholly surprised me. Forgive me for liking a white boy, but he’s someone who is much less rough than he appears to be and doesn’t like violence even though he’s the heir of a gang, and… I love the types of characters who put on masks like that. He’s surprisingly tender and caring for the people he loves in a way that isn’t quite as fierce as Juliette’s.
“You destroy me and then you kiss me. You give me reason to hate you and then you give me reason to love you. Is this a lie or the truth? Is this a ploy or your heart reaching for me?”
Of course, in a Romeo and Juliet retelling, you expect an angsty romance bound to tug at your heartstrings, and that’s exactly what you get. The lovers to enemies to lovers trope was executed fantastically, and their tension and history paired with yearning and longing that couldn’t be suppressed made a painfully exquisite combination. It felt like Gong was tantalizing me with this romance, each scene between Juliette and Roma a breath held in fear of what might move in to the space between them that wasn’t hatred for each other.
There were also several side characters who I fell in love with: Juliette’s cousins, Kathleen and Rosalind, and Roma’s two righthand men, Benedikt and Marshall. They get a few of their own POV chapters, and though Marshall and Kathleen were my favorites, I loved each and every one of them! They all have such distinct personalities, from a perfectionistic artist to a dance performer to a witty flirt, and I can’t wait to see more of them in the sequel. (Kathleen is a trans girl, Marshall is Korean, and I definitely think a romantic relationship is developing between Benedikt and Marshall!)
Maybe there was no truth. Maybe nothing was as easy as one truth.
What I truly loved about this book, though, was the way it thoughtfully portrayed and commented on Western imperialism. It is as much of a threat to the people of Shanghai as the monster preying on them (and you might even argue that it’s more horrifying, in a more subtle way), and it’s heartbreaking to see Juliette and other Chinese people feel so helpless about the foreigners making a home in a city that is not theirs to carve a place into. There’s a particular layer revealed that shows even more how insidious and deeply embedded the West is in this city and many other non-Western places, and it genuinely gave me chills when I was reading.
Gong also wove the theme of loyalty into the threads of this story—loyalty to your people, your gang, your family—and how it is challenged when you dare to love your enemy. Something I found particularly interesting was how loyalty came into play with family in the gang, as family is one of the most important things you can value in Asian culture. This and other things truly showed how originally white stories can be enriched when taken and retold by authors of color with their own twists and bringing in their own background.
I personally was not entirely into the monster antagonist, as I was more interested in the idea of the foreigners as the villains, but the other areas of the story, most notably the characters, more than made up for it, a testament to how well-written the book was overall. I also had some problems getting into the book at first; it took me about until halfway to feel fully invested in the book (though I do blame part of that on the fact that I was in a reading slump), but once the book had me hooked, it did not let me go.
They are criminals—criminals at the top of an empire of thieves and drug lords and pimps, preparing to inherit a broken, terrible, defeated thing that looks upon them in sadness.
While the story as a whole is thrilling, the ending in particular is full of action and excitement, tinged with heartbreak and the shattering of dreams. Gong lets the novel finish on a cruel cliffhanger, and the wait for sequel will be long and painful, but completely worth it.
I adored Juliette and Roma and lost my mind over their romance, and I was in awe of the way how how this book expertly tackled colonialism and Western influence. These Violent Delights is a beautifully written, haunting tale of how the West seeps into every place, even when people are determined to shut it out, paired with the tragic story of two lovers who seem destined to have everything around them fall apart. I can’t wait for others to fall in love with it just as I did.
:: representation :: Chinese MC, several Chinese characters, Chinese trans character, Korean mlm character, mlm character
:: content warnings :: murder, gore, violence, death, depictions of blood, loss of loved ones, disease/sickness, self-harm & suicide (not of own volition), transphobia, racism, colonialism, explosion, body horror-ish type of things with insects
On a whim, I decided to make a bookish outfit for These Violent Delights, and I love how it turned out!! I paired the book with a black blazer, a red dress with fringe (which was one of my dance recital costumes last year!), and black fishnets. There’s also the sneaky appearance of a knife in the second photo (which is actually… scissors… and that’s why I hid it behind my back…).
See the launch post for more details about the tour!
Caffeine Book Tours is giving away five (5) hardcover copies of These Violent Delights to five (5) winners! The giveaway is open internationally until November 25 at 12 AM (Philippine time). You can enter here!!
are you excited to read These Violent Delights? or have you already read it (and what are your thoughts)? have you read Romeo and Juliette? (I… have not)