Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong | A Brutal, Atmospheric and Kick-ass Romeo and Juliet Retelling set in 1920s Shanghai

A Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, whilst a monster rages across the city with a complex enemies to lovers to enemies to lovers that employs such atmospheric writing? Y’all were right, These Violent Delights is utter brilliance. And help me while I sob and go on a rampage till November when Our Violent Ends comes out.

by Chloe Gong

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fantasy | Age Group: Young Adult
Series: These Violent Delights #1

Publication: 17 November 2020 | Read: 11 January 2021
No. of Pages: 448

Click here to view Trigger Warnings ▼ Blood, violence, gore, character deaths, explicit description of gouging self (not of their own volition), murder, weapon use, insects, alcohol consumption, parental abuse

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.

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.

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These Violent Delights, an brilliantly crafted retelling of Romeo and Juliet in 1920s Shanghai, follows Juliette Cai, the heiress of the Scarlet Gang who recently returned to China from overseas and is seething at the increasing Western influence, as well as struggling with her identity and role. Her and her gang’s greatest rival are the White Flowers, another gang gaining dominance in vibrant, gritty Shanghai, whose heir was Juliette’s former love, Roma Montagov.

Killer. Violent Ruthless. All those and more – that was who she was now.

art credits to aceysketches
From the description, I was expecting Juliette to be quite badass, but I was not expecting to fall in love with her so much. She stores up so much rage, is fiercely loyal to her gang, hardened by bloodshed, lacks fear causing her to face danger head-on and is one of the most brutal, merciless main characters I have ever met (and loved). I loved how morally grey Juliette was, how messed up she was.

As a heir, Juliette had power and control, and she abused that, using them to her advantage over others, such that she could get away with everything by intimidating and forcing others with this privilege. How she fully embraced her unfair advantage truly shaped my first impression of her into a girl who lacks decency and steps on others. She also recognises the cruelty of the world, and goes along with it, never hesitating to kill so that she may be the one thriving. She was such a vicious, vibrant and at times vulnerable character that I LOVED.

Even if he hated the violence, the violence found him, and he was to cooperate or be cut down.

These Violent Deligths preorder Art
I was honestly terrified of Roma Montagov at first (as I was with probably every other character in this book haha), and still would choose Juliette in a heartbeat. But what I felt made Roma such an excellent co-star of the book was the contrasts between him and Juliette.

Both Juliette and Roma were raised in gangs who tolerated no weakness and craved power but there is a huge difference between their relationship with violence. Juliette is impulsive, ruthless and embraces the violence while strong, skilled Roma has an aversion to it and seeing those mindsets clash was extremely well written. Another stark contrast would be their responses in the present towards the past, Juliette tries her best to encase all the emotions and start anew, while all that happened weighed on Roma so much, and you can really see how this was a huge factor in their relationship.

Apart from the contrasts well done, the parallelism was top-notch as well. I was blown away by the mirrored portrayals of both parties struggling with power and position in their respective gangs, as well as questioning their identity, and exploration of family expectations as well as legacy.

Wasn’t playing with her heart once enough? Hadn’t he already torn her into two and left her to the wolves once before?

art credits to polarts
I have an important announcement to make: I have officially jumped onto the enemies-to-lovers fan club.

I lived for Roma and Juliette’s interactions, especially when they were quite sparse in the first half of the book. You can literally feel all the tension between Roma and Juliette reverberating all around the room because each scene with them was unpredictable and intense, thanks to the fact that they know each other so well and yet have darkened so much after four years and are now seeing a brutal side of each other, and sensing the change in the other’s beliefs.

And oh my goodness every time there was a hint about the betrayal, I had to resist the temptation to skip to the end to find out what really happened. The starcrossed lovers concept was incredibly done, in terms of the blood feud, conduct of loyalty in the gang and now personal reasons that keep them apart. Ah, this forbidden enemies to lovers to enemies to lovers with so many complex layers of hate has undone me.

In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens.

One of my first thoughts of the book was: This IS how you write prologues because it was absolutely riveting. It set up Shanghai so vividly, plunging right into the rivalry, hinting at the danger ahead, carrying such an ominous tone. And being honest here, the whole book was written in such beautiful prose. I was enraptured by the dark, intense tone and the writing which was filled with so much vivid imagery and metaphors which just make sense and then punch you in the gut. The third-person omniscient narrative worked wonders as well and gave such unique insights into each of the characters.

Speaking of which, there were a lot of characters. I loved that Juliette and Roma each had their little group of supporters and little team, and each of these side characters served a purpose not only to drive the story along, but also to bring out certain themes. One of my favourite examples would be Kathleen and Rosalind who truly highlighted the unfair system so to speak in the gangs, as to how they were family but didn’t have “Cai” as a surname and thus did not have the same privileges which brewed a deep sense of injustice.

The setting of this book was amazing, as mentioned before: thanks to the brilliant writing, managing to capture Shanghai and it’s multifaceted nature, shaping it into a vibrant, action-filled city bursting at its seams, threatening to fall apart, with so many layers. These Violent Delights has such a rich historical setting, with the backdrop of the Nationalists vs the Communists, and my historical fiction loving heart could not have been more pleased.

Four years ago, she had looked at Shanghai with glitter in her eyes, blinking at the Scarlet Gang with hope. She hadn’t understood that Shanghai was a foreign city in its own country. Now she did.

An aspect that stood out would be the commentary on Westernisation. Juliette’s ire shines through the pages when she meets White men who believe themselves superior, play by their own rules, try to take advantage of the locals and are there to make the Chinese more “civilised”. It struck such a chord in me because the Chinese were my very own people, and that this colonisation is part of my race’s and country’s history. In These Violent Delights, it was clear how the Western influence was not so insidious anymore, with a clashing of cultures, foreigners profiting… I was seething alongside the characters and the way this issue was looming over the story and managing to intertwine itself with the “concrete” portion of the plot was well done.

Of course one of my favourite elements was the Chinese culture, which I could strongly resonate with being a Chinese myself. Not only was the physical setting with the food and language (I loved how hanyupinyin, a Chinese pronunciation guide was used!) so obviously Chinese which I loved, but there were so many Chinese values ingrained. Those such as the importance of filial piety (孝顺), loyalty to the family… these were all ideals I grew up within my Chinese family and I loved having a new favourite character be abide/be burdened by them, seeing and how these qualities were expanded to drive the plot.

The stars incline us, they do not bind us.

Overall, These Violent Delights was such a fantastic read because of the characters, and especially the Chinese culture, setting and themes which resonated so much with me, being a Chinese myself. I’m hanging on to reality as I await book 2, and for now, am urging you to pick it up and fall into this rich historical fantasy!

rating // ★★★★½

(P.S. This book had a high gore and violence level which I was not expecting so please check the trigger warnings and know what you are getting into. Though how brutal and realistic it made the book feel and further enhanced the setting, it did make me feel a little uncomfortable at times, especially since this is a YA book. Please don’t feel ashamed to give this one a pass if it’s too much.)

Have you read These Violent Delights or are planning to? What did you think of the historical and cultural significance of it? What other historical fantasies have resonated with you?


64 thoughts on “Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong | A Brutal, Atmospheric and Kick-ass Romeo and Juliet Retelling set in 1920s Shanghai

  1. This book has had so much hype and Chloe seems to have delivered because I have not seen a single negative review. I’m excited but my book hasn’t arrived yet haha.

    I keep hearing how gory TVD is but I read the trigger warnings so I hope I’m better prepared because there’s a lot… and insects?

    And the historical aspect sounds lovely. I can’t wait to jump into 1920’s Shanghai! Great review, Cherelle!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Chloe Gong is incredible, it is hard to believe that she is even a debut author! Ahh I hope it comes soon or has it come already, I’m really excited for you to start on it and join the club on the long long wait for book 2 haha! Yeah, the insects in this book are a little disturbing to read about but they do very well set the tense atmosphere and the tone, and I was completely not expecting so much gore and violence in a YA novel so please be careful! I can’t wait for you too, thank you Kirsten! 💖

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahhh yet another person in love with this book!! The historical setting and themes about Westernization sound AMAZING, and I’m so happy to hear you felt represented reading it!! As for me, the trigger/content warnings scare me a bit, so I think I’ll have to give this one a pass. But I’m beyond thrilled to hear that you enjoyed it!! I’m loving the new look by the way 😚 Wonderful review Cherelle!! ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I didn’t read the original Romeo and Juliet so the retelling aspect wasn’t the greatest for me, but the historical setting and themes certainly made up for it and blew me away! It was truly an experience resonating so deeply with a book and I’m definitely understanding how vastly different it is to review books with the culture and elements so close to one’s heart! Definitely, no shame in that, I went into These Violent Delights completely not expecting the amount of gore and violence, I hope you find other incredible reads this year! 💖

      Thank you so much, Abby! ✨

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah yay I’m so glad that you liked it!! I love it when I recommend a book and someone enjoys it haha.

    Yes to everything you said in this review!! Juliette is an amazing character, and she was so interesting to read about. I loved how she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, but does things ultimately for her gang and her family. I also adored the group dynamic, both with Juliette and the girls and Roma’s friends as well. Friendship relations in stories are my fave to read about and I can’t wait for that aspect to hopefully be expanded upon in the sequel.

    Chloe Gong’s prose is so rich and vibrant and wonderful, and I still cannot believe this was a debut. Now that you’ve read it, you can join us all in the wait for the next one! ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. THANK YOU for that very passionate review you posted which drove me to pick These Violent Delights up! 💖 And yes on my behalf on everything you mentioned in your comment! The group dynamic between Juliette and the girls was my personal favourite, with Juliette having the “privileged” surname and thus so much more power and advantage compared to her cousins and how this sort of made their relationship rocky was so interesting to read about! Agreed, Chloe Gong must have secretly published another novel under another name because it is insane at how skilled she is with her words, ahhh yess the long long wait till book 2!✨Have you seen the cover reveal for it? 🤩


  4. Wow! I think you really captured the essence of this book with your stellar review!

    The prose really captured my attention from that first line (which I absolutely loved, btw!). And I like how you talked about the similarities and differences between Juliette and Roma. They really played off of each other in such a captivating way, so much so that I can’t wait to see what their dynamic looks like in the next installment! Ah, but now we have to wait…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Aww you’re welcome 💖

        Yes x1000! I’m right there with you in waiting for that sequel! Although I have to admit, the title really has me worried. 😬

        I saw the cover on Twitter a couple of days ago. Such perfection! A good story really uplifts my spirit, and a beautiful cover is just the icing on the cake. 🍰 😍

        Liked by 1 person

  5. OOHH I love this review and I’m loving the book!! Chloe Gong’s writing is just so perfect and dark omg it’s impossible not to fall heads over heels in love 😍 and i agree on the prologue it definitely hooks you in! I just want to devour it in one sitting ahh. can’t wait to finish!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Truly heartened to hear that! 💕 I know! Right from the very start, it’s allure is impossible to resist… have you seen the cover reveal for book 2? 🤩 I hope you enjoyed the rest of it, thank you so much Rhea! ✨

      (also is your blog okay? the link seems to have disappeared?)


  6. Aaah, I literally just finished this one (yesterday!!!) and it was awesome! I agree that the gore was…a bit much but it was a fabulously done book, with so many aspects from actual 1926 Shanghai (I mean, I wasn’t there but you can tell how much research was put into this book) and the characters were brilliant! I picked this up at a perfect time too, since we were reading Romeo and Juliet in English class. Overall, this was a great book and I loved your review as well!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so happy that you loved this one too, Phoenix!! Indeed, it was so well researched which made the historical setting incredibly rich… ahh that is perfect timing, and I really enjoyed your goodreads review comparing the two! I hope to pick up the original text one day and to be able to marvel at the retelling aspect fully! I truly appreciate the lovely comment, Phoenix! 💖

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah I’m always so impressed when authors do that much research. Haha thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed my goodreads review it was quite fun to write. I hope that you can pick up the original text eventually too and maybe enjoy it more than me! Have you read any Shakespeare before?
        (also has anyone told you you have such a…lyrical way of writing comments? They’re so nice to read 🙂


  7. cherelle!! i’m so glad you loved this one!! i can imagine miss chloe gong smiling to herself at how much pain she’s caused her readers. i also fell in love with juliette cai! she could backhand me into the huangpu river and i’d thank her for her time. amazing review, cherelle! 💞

    Liked by 1 person

      1. XD I got it now, it kinda reminded me of the dystopian novels I used to read, which made the book feel nostalgic. Who knew that bugs could do that! XD

        Liked by 1 person

  8. this was such a well-written and brilliant review, Cherelle! i agree with literally every single one of your points – the tension, love, and slowburn between Juliette and Roma had me losing my mind haha,, this is why i love enemies-to-lovers so much. i’m also Chinese, and i loved that Chinese culture, pinyin, language, and themes were so prominent in this book! 😭 it really resonated with me. again, wonderful post and i’m looking forward to reading more posts and reviews from you! :))

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dezzy, THANK YOU. Yess, my brain was screaming at everything interaction the two had and I keep rereading those moments and try not to pull my hair out because of that slowburn! Indeed, this is an enemies to lovers masterpiece ahh! Ohh I’m truly glad to hear that you thought the Chinese culture was represented well and it resonated deeply with you too. 💗 Thank you for the lovely comment, Dezzy! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Lovely review! I finished this one just this month and absolutely LOVED it as well! The tension between Roma and Juliette was SO GOOD and I need more of them. It was everything I love about lovers to enemies to lovers. I do agree that the setting was beautiful, and I loved the Asian setting as well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Allison, thank you! I KNOW RIGHT, every small intervention and thought caused me to start screaming internally haha. The complicated enemies to lovers to enemies to lovers was indeed incredible to experience, I NEED MORE. I’m truly glad to hear that, thank you for commenting! 💖


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