REVIEW: THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS by Chloe Gong
“These violent delights have violent ends And in their triumph die, like fire and powder Which, as they kiss, consume”
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Cover art © Billelis
If a 1920s Shanghai retelling of Romeo and Juliet sounds like a dream to you, then get ready for THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS.
Chloe Gong’s debut novel is pretty much my dream gangster book—it’s like a YA cross between Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie version (yeah, the one with baby Leonardo DiCaprio, you remembered it right) and everything I loved about those tropey Tumblr aesthetics of guns and cigarettes and strings of pearls back in the day. Take Gatsby, take Romeo and Juliet, mash them together with blood feuds and bloody knuckles, and there you have it: THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, which truly do have violent ends.
I had no idea I’d get approved for an ARC of this, and for that I have to thank Kate Keehan from the publicity side of Hodder & Stoughton, Chloe Gong, and the rest of the team associated with delivering e-ARCs to little bloggers like me. This was a dream come true and it’s my absolute honour to get to talk about this incredible book.
First off: LOOK AT THAT COVER!!! THAT COVER MUGGED ME IN AN ALLEYWAY AND STOLE ALL OF MY MONEY!!! I WANT TO WALLPAPER MY HOUSE WITH IT!!!
If you've seen that cover, you sort of know the vibe of this book already. It’s glamour and gore and gang-related violence, all painted with the dazzling sheen of 1920s Shanghai. Side note: I got an e-arc of this but I will definitely be saving to buy a physical copy because it’s just too beautiful.
THE SCARLET GANG
"The weight of Shanghai was a steel crown nailed to her head. In another world, if she had been given a choice, perhaps she would have walked away, rejected herself as the heir to an empire of mobsters and merchants. But she never had a choice. This was her life, this was her city, these were her people, and because she loved them, she had sworn to herself a long time ago that she would do a damn good job of being who she was because she could be no one else."
Juliette Cai is the heiress of the Scarlet Gang, freshly returned from America and ready to take up the mantle as Shanghai’s most ruthless former flapper.
THE WHITE FLOWERS
"Roma Montagov had not changed. The Roma who had loved her. The Roma who had betrayed her."
Roma Montagov, the Russian heir to the rival White Flowers, is Juliette’s ex-lover—and her greatest enemy. He betrayed her once, and Juliette will never give him the chance to do it again. But despite the power Roma wields, his position within the White Flowers is shakier than it appears…
Juliette and Roma don’t have time to dwell on their past, because rumours begin to emerge of a mysterious monster stalking the streets of the city—making gang members on either side tear their throats out with their bare hands.
I was stunned by how well-developed the characters in this book were. I'm so picky about main characters!!! So picky!!! I usually wouldn't care if they fell into a ravine and vanished for the rest of the book!!! But Juliette was feisty and glamorous and utterly terrifying in the best way. She was a true gangster with her flapper dresses and finger curls, weapons strapped to her thighs. I didn’t realise how much I needed Juliette as a character until this book.
She’s harsh and sometimes unforgiving, tactical and bold, conniving and relentless and comfortable with the immensity of her power as the heir to the Scarlet Gang. There were times in this book when I felt truly blown away by the force of Juliette’s anger, her tempestuous, furious emotions. She’s a girl simultaneously unafraid of her emotions and terrified of them—but only when it comes to Roma Montagov.
Juliette and Roma are hugely intriguing characters in their own rite, but their friends and allies are just… chef’s kiss. On the Scarlet side there’s Rosalind, Juliette’s firecracker cousin who works as a dancer in a Scarlet-owned club; Kathleen, Rosalind’s sister, who is TRANS!!! Yes, my friends, we have a trans woman in a YA book and it’s just!!! Not a big deal!!! This is the first time I’ve seen a trans woman feature majorly in a YA book and I’m so excited about it!!!
Then on the White Flowers side we have Benedikt, an artist obsessed with drawing the perfect sphere, and Marshall, who is chatty and funny and enjoys driving Benedikt and Roma mad. The dynamics are really amazing. Chloe Gong has created an unstoppable crew who need to just shut up and stop fighting because together they could take over the world! And 1920s Shanghai is just a place I want to be. Like, take me there. Now. I want to experience those streets! I want to sit by the Huangpu river with Juliette and maybe see her kill a man! I want to hang out on the roof of a tea shop with Roma and check out his collection of decorative knives (because you know that boy has more than one, come on). What I don’t want is to suffer the terrifying plague afflicting people on both sides of the gang war, because that shit was gross.
Not in a bad way! The descriptions were intense, but not overdone. Like, there’s only so chill you can make a paragraph about someone’s throat being ripped out, you know? But that whole plot was incredibly well fleshed-out and left me guessing the whole time, even when I was sure I knew what was going on. And even when I really did and I had things figured out, the way Chloe Gong reveals stuff leaves you gasping, even if it’s the same conclusion you came to yourself. It’s a talent!
There was something pared-down about the writing style in a lot of places, which I think worked really well. I went into this expecting something really flowery and dramatic and Shakespearean, I guess, but that isn’t what I got—and I was happy about it. I was carried along by the perfect pacing, the ebb and flow, the effortless shift from one character’s consciousness to another’s. If you're worried a Romeo and Juliet retelling could be a little... I don't know, snooty? then fear no more, because this is definitely not.
And, oh my goodness, we can’t discuss this book without talking about the romance. Now, I’m not a massive romance person. I’m super picky about that sort of plot, and I was worried this was going to turn into some kind of insta-love fest that would leave me rolling my eyes in despair. But no. This was just hatred and yearning and aaaaah. This is true enemies-to-lovers—two people who hate each other, who have reason to despise one another, but who also have this powerful, all-encompassing need to kiss each other’s faces off. The fury? The passion? The incredible I-hate-you-I-love-you dynamic? I WAS STARSTRUCK.
Basically: read this book. That’s all I’m going to say here. And since this is my first real review here, let me make my rating process clear.
★: usually means a book was super uncomfortable to read, probably because is contained a lot of content that was problematic or offensive or just plain Bad.
★★: meh—I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t completely terrible. There were bits I enjoyed.
★★★: those middle-of-the-road books where there were a couple of elements I enjoyed, but also a significant number I couldn’t get on board with.
★★★★: I really enjoyed this book, maybe even count it among my favourites—but it didn’t quite leave me reeling.
★★★★★: for books that really, truly stunned me. You know when you finish a book and you’re left wondering who you are and what your place in the universe is? And you’re just overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to read that book and experience it? Yeah, that’s five stars.
So to THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, I give five stars. I have no idea where the sequel is going to go, but I’m excited about it.
THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS releases on November 17th, 2020.
You can add the book on Goodreads here, and don't forget to pre-order if you can! Pre-order Info:
Book Depository: http://bit.ly/1tvdBD
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/1tvdBN
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