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.
THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS
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.
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.
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.
Killer. Violent Ruthless. All those and more – that was who she was now.
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.
Even if he hated the violence, the violence found him, and he was to cooperate or be cut down.
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.
Wasn’t playing with her heart once enough? Hadn’t he already torn her into two and left her to the wolves once before?
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.
In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens.
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.
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.
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!
The stars incline us, they do not bind us.
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.)