Wednesday 17 February 2021

These Violent Delights - Chloe Gong


The brilliantly imaginative New York Times bestselling fantasy retelling of Romeo and Juliet set against the immersive backdrop of 1920s Shanghai.

In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens . . .

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city in the grip of chaos. At its heart 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.

Filled with romance, intrigue and betrayal, this heart-stopping debut is perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane.

What did I think?

I haven't read a lot of Shakespeare but everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet so I was intrigued by the idea of Chloe Gong's debut, These Violent Delights.  This retelling brings the story into a more modern but vintage era by setting it in 1920s Shanghai rather than 16th century Verona and it works brilliantly.

The Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers run the streets of Shanghai but neither of them can fight a monster they can't see.  A monster that strikes both gangs, infecting them with madness that results in people committing suicide by ripping their own throats out.  Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are former lovers and heirs to rival gangs but they know they can only defeat the monster if they work together.

I was a little daunted when I started the book as I don't know Shakespeare well but I was charmed from the start just by the slight change to the characters' names.  I was surprised by how many Shakespearean references I did actually pick up but, whilst paying homage to the bard, it is clear that Chloe Gong has made the story her own and written an engaging, compelling novel that effortlessly drew me into the story.  I was completely captivated and flew through the pages faster than I expected.

Although I sometimes forgot the 1920s setting, the whole novel does have a vintage feel about it; just little things like clothing and the way that people act reminded me of the time period.  I also loved the addition of the monster which gave a fantasy edge to the story and made it something extraordinary.  If Shakespeare had written fantasy, I don't think he could have bettered These Violent Delights.

As this is the first book in a series, the story isn't over yet.  So although I felt rather bereft when I reached the end of the book, I know I shall be returning to Roma and Juliette's Shanghai some time soon.

These Violent Delights is a highly original and ambitious retelling of a classic tale by a very talented new author; Chloe Gong is certainly one to watch.  This is an astonishing debut; a tender, brutal, dark and imaginative novel that blows apart the genre boundaries and sets itself in a league of its own.  I can't wait to continue the story.

I received an ARC from the publisher for the purpose of review; this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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