This book had me wound up so tight with anxiety that I was practically ready to explode after every. Frigging. Plot twist. As sequels went, this one took me on a tailspin all the way to its ending, and IT HURTS SO GOOD. I had reread Romeo and Juliet after finishing These Violent Delights, and as usual, loved the way Gong wove the original into her story. I honestly was conflicted about how I’d have wanted her to end the retelling. But sigh. I’m going to admit right here, I thought it was perfectly done.
Now I’m going just sit here and cry my feelings out until I’m dead inside.
WARNING: This review is of the second book of a duology. Expect spoilers from the first book!
OUR VIOLENT ENDS
by Chloe Gong
Margaret K. McElderry Books, November 2021
YA historical fiction, romance, scifi
Rated: 5 / 5 cookies
The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.
After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.
Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.
Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.
My 2021 reading has been very successful when it comes to duologies. I’ve decided I like them, because not only do I get more after the first book, but it’s not as daunting of a task to read the next book and expect it to get stale. It’s been the case with the Bardugo duologies, and for Chloe Gong, splitting the Shanghainese Romeo and Juliet worked in her favor. This book, this sequel, was chef’s kiss perfect. And chef’s kiss quotable. Just chef’s kisses all around!
And I’m having a terribly hard time saying goodbye to this story. Parting is, indeed, such sweet sorrow.
Our Violent Ends picks up immediately after the end of These Violent Delights. Well, insofar as several months after.
As a result of Marshall’s death, Roma and Juliette are back to being enemies with each other, the former in search of answers and revenge, the latter fighting to keep secrets that could very well change the dynamic of her relationship with her family and Roma Montagov. And so as a coping mechanism, Juliette plays the avoidance game in the hopes that she never runs into Roma again, that she never has to face him on account of the fact that she’s still in love with him.
Their gazes locked, the click of mutual recognition so forceful that Juliette felt a physical shift in her spine, like her body was finally righting itself into alignment after months out of configuration. She was frozen, breath caught in her throat, eyes pulled wide.
Unfortunately, avoiding Roma Montagov for months on end was never going to end well, and the first scene we get into after reading the prologue is a brief showdown between Roma and Juliette. And so the game continues!
Hatred has been lurking in the waters before the first bullet was fired from Scarlet to White Flower; it’s been there since the British brought opium into the city and took what wasn’t theirs; since the foreigners stomped in and the city split into factions, divided by rights and wrongs that foreign law put into being.
Those things do not fade away with time. They can only grow and fester and ooze like a slow, slow cancer.
And any day now, the city will turn inside out, corrupted by the poison in its own seams.
What I love about this particular R&J retelling, as I’ve said before, is the fact that it isn’t purely a R&J retelling. It’s placed in historical Shanghai, during a time period rife with violence and uprisings. Between the rival gangs of the White Flowers and the Scarlets lies a more menacing turmoil between Nationalists and Communists, workers and military and the common man. Not even petty gang wars can stop the political movements beginning to ride into the nation.
And in the middle of all this is a star-crossed love story of two jaded young adults who desire so much but are almost incapable of crossing the lines that can bring them forward to each other.
“Why do you pause?” Juliette mimicked briefly. Softly, she set him down, brushing his mussed hair out of his face. “Because even if you hate me, Roma Montagov, I still love you.”
Only he knew that if he screamed I hate you, what he really meant was I love you. I still love you so much that I hate you for it.
It’s pretty effing poetic, man. It’s dramatic, too, but when you’re dealing with the enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers story that’s Roma and Juliette’s story, you’re going to have to expect it.
“I would rather the two of you not burn the world down each time you choose each other.”
And boy, what a love story they are!
Before I fully get into them, though, shoutout to the Benedikt and Marshall storyline. I was so bummed in the first half of the book when things escalated as they did at the end, but turns out “Mercutio” hasn’t actually died! Already, this retelling gave me hope as I read it, because perhaps if this ending of Mercutio happened, then MAYBE the tragedy at the end won’t be as much of a tragedy.
If wishes were granted so easily, though…
But yes, let’s get back to the overall story at hand. Amidst all the turmoil and the chaos ensuing within the city, amidst the threat of monsters and worker strikes and military coups, Our Violent Ends is ultimately the tragedy of two people fighting on separate ends of a war. And boy, if I had to stand behind this kind of story conflict, I’m picking Roma and Juliette every day, including Sundays.
I loved the way Gong characterized both Roma and Juliette. I loved that they were halves of the same coin, but still had personalities and actions outside of their love story. I love that despite all the hurt they’ve managed to inflict on each other (which could be considered HIGHLY TOXIC AF), there is a boundary there that neither of them could truly cross. That, yes, while they talk about harming the other, there’s that reflex and mindset that eventually backs them down from that dangerous precipice.
And honestly, all that goddamn tension!
Roma and Juliette are, quite frankly, just perfect for each other. I can’t even fathom not having them end up together the rate they both constantly find their way to each other in this book.
And their declarations are so effing SWOONWORTHY.
I’m constantly fanning myself after perusing all of the stickies I’ve indicated between them. Get a room, you guys. Oh wait.
ALSO. Kudos to the language use, Miss Chloe! Since These Violent Delights, I’ve admired the insertion of R&J dialogue into the text. And when the characters kind of quote their original counterparts, it induces me to clap with glee.
Don’t even get me started on how Gong masterfully ended the tragedy of Roma and Juliette. I don’t think I’m ever going to be over it, but like Alisa, I’m viewing the ending on a more positive note, because I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE BY BEING REALLY VAGUE, CHLOE GONG. I SEE IT AND I CHOOSE TO BELIEVE IN THE POSSIBLE.
5 out of 5 cookies! Looking back on my notes dredged up my emotions again, so now I’m going to need several moments to cry over the story. Again.