WHAT. NO. THAT’S NOT HOW IT’S SUPPOSED TO END I AM UPSET.
Honestly, the words “1920s” and “Shanghai” did the trick. I was slightly wary that because this was a Romeo and Juliet inspired story, that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.
But then I read that beginning, and honestly, that beginning did it ALL. I was hooked. I was shipping (the ships, the ships!). I STARTED QUOTING ROMEO AND JULIET QUOTES ALOUD. I DON’T EVEN LIKE R&J THAT WELL.
So yeah. Win me over with a gun-toting Chinese gang heiress and a TDH Russian mafia heir with a heart of gold why doncha.
THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS
by Chloe Gong
Margaret K. McElderry Books, November 2020
YA historical fiction, romance
Rated: 5 / 5 cookies
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.
I am going to preface this review now by saying that ever since I read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in 8th grade (and again in high school), I’ve hated the idea of the love at first sight trope. I could not understand the big deal with this play, and of all the plays–save Taming of the Shrew, which I found just as problematic–R&J had become my least favorite. My mind hasn’t changed, even when I found myself actually liking the star-crossed lovers trope that was constantly spawned from this romance (I mean, I loved Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, so that’s saying something).
Until Chloe Gong–bless her soul–completely re-defined my perspective and made me kind of not hate Romeo and Juliet as much as I used to.
Perhaps it was the time period that did me in; the 1920s, where gangs and booze and industry boomed almost worldwide. Perhaps the fact that Juliette Cai was a Shanghai gang heiress and Roma Montagova was the heir of the Russian mafia lord. Perhaps it’s because Gong did away with most of the love at first sight trope entirely, and that much of the young love pretty much disintegrated because Juliette and Roma actually hate each other within the beginnings of this story. (In fact, their relationship actually goes from lovers-to-rivals-to-lovers and it’s divine.) Perhaps it’s all of this plus the fact that the whole story takes place in Shanghai of all places.
Shanghai. 1920s. Rival Chinese and Russian gangs. A love-hate story, and lots of uh…madness. And not just a metaphorical kind, either.
Yeah, I definitely enjoyed the book.
In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens.
Honestly, I had expected a fairly faithful retelling of Romeo and Juliet, with numerous deviations because of time period and setting (sort of like West Side Story but without the singing). What I did not expect was things to take a fantastical/science fiction turn within the prologue. By that point, I’d already gotten hooked, and I completely did not know what to expect going forward.
The story also subverts the usual expectation you would have about Juliette and Roma. Both are now mostly in their late-teens (I believe 18 or 19), it’s been a number of years since the two have last seen each other, and there appears to have been some kind of violent history behind them which has led to Juliette hating Roma in the beginning of the story. I loved that there’s a hint of what they were before, but as time has changed them both, they become wary of the other, to the point of distrust. Let’s not forget, too, that there’s a blood feud between their families, and it’s going to take a lot more than their old romantic history to even get the two together in the same room.
Thankfully, for us, there’s a monster loose in Shanghai, and nobody quite knows how to deal with the madness that ensues. So Juliette and Roma have no choice but to pool their resources.
It was great unfolding the story of the Cai and Montagova past, but just as good to be living in their present. I loved the interweaving of the history of Shanghai, and while Gong definitely deviated from the classic R&J storyline by a lot, you can still see the major essence of it in the pages. Roma’s two loyal companions–Marshall Tseo and Benedikt Montagova–are the absolute best (and I completely ship them so hard).
Marshall adored the sound of his own voice. In any circumstance where there was silence, he took it upon himself as a favor to the world to fill it.
Benedikt’s protest went unheard.
“Shall I compare him to a winter’s night?” Marshall proclaimed. “More breathtaking and more rugged: tempest breezes do tremble with less might–”
“You saw a stranger for two seconds on the street,” Benedikt interrupted dully. “Please calm down.”
How Gong characterized the players of this great Shanghai game was also fantastic. I loved many of the characters–familiar and not-so-familiar–in the story. Kathleen was fun to read, as were Benedikt and Marshall, Rosalind and Alina. Per usual, Tyler Cai (or Tybalt) still remains to be a ginormous douche canoe. But when is his character ever not?
And Roma and Juliette themselves? The gradual return to their affair was such a slow burn it was delicious in the playing. I loved these two, and I’m kind of anxious to see what’s going to happen in the second book. Because, if you’ve read Romeo and Juliet or even know the story in that tragedy, you know things don’t exactly end well for many of the characters. And honestly, I’m already so invested in them that I don’t know what I’d do when they go the tragic route.
“Why do you flinch?” Roma asked. His voice dropped to a conspiring, merciless whisper. “Do you fear me?”…
“I have never feared you.”
Sigh, these two.
5 out of 5 cookies! I’m mostly upset that this isn’t actually the entire story, and that there’s a second book expected to be out this year titled Our Violent Ends. I can’t even deal right now.
**Some trigger warnings include: insects, gore, violence, involuntary self-harm. While the gore and violence seems expected in a story about gangs and a blood feud, I was definitely surprised by the insects and the “madness.” So be forewarned.