You know, I think it would be beneficial to all of us if I actually read the original Romeo and Juliet at some point because all I know “Wherefore art thou Romeo” and that’s not okay. Anyways, we’re talking about an absolutely fantastic retelling today, so let’s get on with it! I also had an absolutely amazing time buddy-reading this with Andge from Down The Rabbit Hole, and you can go read her review today as well!
These Violent Delights follows a few characters but mainly a girl named Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov. They’re the heirs of the two most notorious gangs in Shanghai…and former lovers who now hate each other with a passion. However, when something deadly begins wiping out members of both gangs, Juliette and Roma have to put aside their differences and work together to save Shanghai from the very pit of evil.
If I could describe this book with one word, it would be obsession. Because let me tell you, I am now obsessed with this world and these characters and with any and all of Gong’s future books! I’ll be honest with you: I thought that this would be more of a fantasy than it ended up being. These Violent Delights is far more political than one might think. We have the politics between the fictitious gangs The Scarlet Gang and The White Flowers but we also read about the very realistic depictions of Communism, Nationalism, and colonization in Shanghai in the 1920s. In an author note in the back, Gong goes into detail on the actual events in history that inspired some of the factions in the book.
Juliette is such a queen and no one can tell me otherwise. Her character arc throughout the book is so good. She’s unapologetic but then again, she has to be. People look down at her because she’s a girl, because she’s too American, not American enough, too Chinese, not Chinese enough, etc. So many people will relate to that feeling of being half of a culture and therefore not being seen as enough. Juliette defies people over and over again and you know what? She can do no wrong and I bow.
Roma is so adorable and sweet and such a cinnamon roll (especially for being heir to a whole gang like sir). Sure, sometimes I do wish he had a little more pizzaz but he was still great. I loved his and Juliette’s chemistry. Like, yes! Threaten each other with guns! Please get married!
The other characters were so great too. Kathleen is one of Juliette’s cousins, and she’s incredibly tenacious. I also loved Benedikt and Marshall so much! Another thing is how easily Chloe Gong slipped different languages into this book. I loved seeing Chinese, Korean, English, Russian, and French. I LOVED THE DIVERSITY IN THIS BOOK OKAY BYE.
I will admit that the plot is super slow-moving at first. It’s like that old-fashioned thing called molasses or whatever*. There’s some mystery surrounding a lot of the events that take place before the novel even begins that kept me intrigued even while nothing was happening. But halfway through, once certain storylines start to converge, this book gets good. After that ending, I now understand why y’all have been screaming for a year straight. The sequel needs to be read now.
*am i the only one who associates molasses with little house on the prairie
Chloe Gong has a very unique writing style. Her prose is poetic in such a timeless way. Despite the awkward pacing for the first half, I found myself heavily invested in the atmosphere of Shanghai and Juliette and Roma’s quest for truth. The lack of fantasy elements didn’t really bother me. But I can totally understand why a lot of people don’t love this book because it is a very different, very slow-burn sort of read that isn’t going to appeal to everyone.
“She…hoped. And hope was dangerous. Hope was the most vicious evil of them all, the thing that had managed to thrive in Pandora’s box among misery, and disease, and sadness—and what could endure alongside others with such teeth if it didn’t have ghastly claws of its own?”
Anyways, before I end this review, I’m going to address the elephant in the room: yes, Juliette and Roma are now one of my favorite couples and no, I will not be taking any questions. While a lot of people will be upset that the main romance between the two takes place before the book even starts, I personally loved getting to see them as enemies, flashbacks to when they were lovers, and then present time where you’re unsure if sparks still exist.
These Violent Delights was a wholly unexpected adventure, replete with crippling tension in the romance department, and a lushly written historical Shanghai being torn apart by white men. The commentary, the characters, and the romance were what I enjoyed most about this one! I will say that the plot being so slow definitely disappointed me a bit, so this is a 4/5 star read for me. Tell me: have you read this one? Have you read the sequel (because I’m terrified haha)?