These Violent Delights
Like any other twenty-something, I love me some angsty forbidden love, the 1920s, and gangsters, and These Violent Delights had all of that and more. I thoroughly enjoyed this YA novel, and I’m glad I finally read it after it sat on my TBR list for some time. Set in Shanghai in 1926, this book is a Romeo and Juliet retelling through the stories of two notorious gangs and the struggles they face as they have to set aside their grievances to stop a monster from killing their people in the streets. Think big Peaky Blinders vibes, but with a healthy dose of the supernatural.
Juliette Cai is the heiress to the Scarlet Gang, but she has spent a lot of her life in America for her own protection. Roma Montagov (I loved the play on names throughout this book btw… even the title is perfection) is the heir to the Russian White Flowers, the sworn archenemy to the Scarlets. Years ago, Roma and Juliette fell in love (naturally), yet their forbidden love was never meant to end happily. One betrayed the other, and Juliette was sent to America for her safety. Four years later, Juliette is back in Shanghai… but the city is under stress from increasing foreign occupation, gang violence, and a mysterious disease threatening the control the gangs have over their city. Realizing the disease is spread through a monster targeting the gangs (just as the Communist party gains strength), Juliette and Roma set aside their hatred for one another and team up to solve the mystery and save their people. As they work together, they start to realize maybe, just maybe… their feelings towards one another never went away, regardless of circumstances gone wrong. The forbidden love trope? Chef’s kiss.
Ok, I love Romeo and Juliet. Sorry, not sorry. I remember reading the play in high school and I was just absolutely mesmerized by the way the story was told and how tragic it was. I’d love to read it again (*cough cough* someone send me a Shakespeare anthology, please), but this book was just as good as the original play. Sometimes retellings are just as good if not better, and I loved the homage to the play and various other works of literature Chloe Gong threw into this amazing story. Also, I just want to take a second to appreciate the brilliance that is Chloe Gong… she wrote this book (and the sequel!) while still in college, which is quite the feat considering I accomplished negative feats while attending college. Plus, she seems like such a cool person and I just really want to be her friend.
Back to the story, I loved the way Chloe portrayed her versions of the main characters. In These Violent Delights, Juliette is a badass woman who takes no shit and uses heavy intimidation to validate her standing in the Scarlet Gang. Of course, she had to grow up this way to prove her capability to her parents, but she wears her cold and cruel mask well to assure her safety and that of her close cousins, Rosalind and Kathleen. Roma, on the other hand, is a soft (albeit more than capable) boi who despises the way his father runs his gang. He puts up with the abuse he suffers at his father’s hand only to keep his sister Alissa, cousin Benedikt, and friend Marshall safe. So really, they both come from similar positions, which is why they were drawn to each other in the first place. The angst in this book had me grinning and my teenage heart racing (though I was dying for a bit more romance), and each interaction with Roma and Juliette built on itself until the very end… when you as a reader knew it wasn’t going to end pretty if you’re familiar with the play. Each of the supporting characters was so crucial to the story as well, and I enjoyed the snippets we got in their points of view. I can’t wait to see more of them going forward.
Not only did I love the characters in this book, but I also loved the setting. I’ve always wanted to visit Shanghai, and this book had me looking up places all over the city to put myself there. Plus, Peaky Blinders is one of my all time favorite shows, so the gang violence was quite enjoyable. The monster and the disease were both super unique… a disease that makes you tear out your own throat, carried by insects that burrow into your head and hair, that come from a river monster? Now that is some creative shit right there, and the gruesome descriptions had me grimacing yet frantically turning the page to see how the story would end. Seriously, it was so good… and the cliffhanger ending has my heart gripped and my mind whirling. I’m definitely not waiting patiently for the sequel to release. While it does err on the side of YA more than other novels, I really loved every second of These Violent Delights, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of angsty love, gang violence, and horrible monsters. Seriously, you’re in for a treat, so do yourself a favor and read this book now!