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These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong (These Violent Delights #1)

Author: Chloe Gong
Release date: 17 November 2020
Publisher:  Simon & Schuester (US); Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller
Goodreads: Here 

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.


Alright, everyone.

We’re now at one of the final stops in Caffeine Book Tours’s #DelighfullyViolentTour promoting Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights.

Welcome. Let’s get into business. I have stuff to say about this book, and stay tuned for a giveaway at the end of the post!

Creepy? It’s only the tip of the iceberg

Overview! What is it about?

In the year 1926, the city of Shanghai has seen many foreign occupiers from the British, the French, Americans, and Russians. One of the main forces that drive its beating heart, the Scarlet Gang, are at war with its rival gang the White Flowers ruled by the Russians. According to their blood feud, now both gangs ruthlessly kill each other while trying to assert dominance in what little territory remains unoccupied. It is a city filled with unbridled crime, debauchery, and political conflict.

Juliette Cai has recently moved back to Shanghai and is willing to do anything to prove to her father that she is ready to rule the Scarlet Gang. Her plan, however, comes to a halt as a monster comes from the Huangpu river, attacking and killing anyone regardless of their hierarchies and districts. She soon finds herself having to cooperate with the heir of the enemy, Roma Montagov (who, by the way, can definitely eat shoes), if she hopes to see Shanghai through the monster’s rampage alive.

Oh, and this is a loose retelling of Romeo and Juliet, to further complicate things. So enemies-to-lovers and much angsty yearning are guaranteed!

Review

Quote graphic of the very first line in These Violent Delights

This wonderful opening line made me shudder, and immediately told me all I need to know about this book – particularly that this book is going to be violent, cruel, and frighteningly excruciating. True to the promise she offers in her premise, Gong’s writing makes sure to cut deep at every opportunity it gets.

These Violent Delights dives straight into the action as it introduces its main threat: a monster in the shadows spreading highly contagious, suicidal madness to every inch of Shanghai. Very little detail is spared in the progress as the gory deaths and ensuing mass panic set up the high stakes for the people of Shanghai; as well as both the rival gangs (Scarlet Gang and White Flowers) ruling its streets. Juggling between the blood feud between the two gangs, the secrecy of their alliance, complicated old feelings, presence of foreign governments, and the power struggle Shanghai faces with the rise of communism, both heirs to the rival gangs Juliette and Roma soon discover that they may be in over their heads.

Gong’s eloquent, evocative writing perfectly brings a vividly imagined 1920s Shanghai to an existence teeming with life. Not only does her writing bring to life the details of 1920s Shanghai in its glittery glory, it also excellently fleshes out the silent but nonetheless vicious power struggle within Shanghai between the many forces occupying it native or foreign. Carrying a rich, deeply layered history as part of the package, These Violent Delights has the rise of communists, foreign traders, and Chinese nationalists on top of gangsters running the streets in Shanghai – and all these factions are actively involved in the storyline.

I noticed that the writing was pared-down compared to the Shakespearean style I initially expected given that it’s a loose retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but it definitely worked for the better as it allowed the book much breadth and appropriate focus to each new element it introduces. While fast-paced, Gong effortlessly fleshes out every element of her story (the intrigue, the horror, and the angst-filled romance filled with yearning) and integrates them together to craft an intensely suspenseful finale that leaves readers wanting more.

Juliette Cai is probably one of the best characters written in 2020. Driven, tough, and ruthless, she isn’t one afraid of making hard choices. Even though she has her fair share of doubters (chief among them her viscous cousin Tyler who wants her place as heir to the Scarlet Gang), she always makes sure that she is a force to be reckoned with. A strong-willed heir sharp as a knife, fitting of her gang’s violent legacy. Despite her all-empowering qualities, however, Juliette also feels very much human with her own vulnerabilities and emotions (as much as she suppresses them). Fresh out from America, she finds herself grappling with the experience of “losing touch” with her heritage and struggling to find a sense of belonging in either side of her upbringing – an experience I believe will resonate with many diasporic readers.

Roma Montagov, on the other hand, is the calmer, more level-headed half of the main lead. Although he puts on a tough, ruthless mask, he’s very caring and gentle underneath which beautifully contrasts with Juliette’s sharp nature. Although he is reluctant to resort to violence, he also is not one afraid to make hard decisions. I greatly enjoyed reading his side of the story and found it as compelling as Juliette’s half.

I did mention earlier that enemies-to-lovers and much angsty yearning are guaranteed as this is a loose retelling of Romeo and Juliet retelling. This is exactly what you get (well, more like lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers but my point still stands) along with the thrilling mystery of Shanghai’s madness plague. Throughout their investigation, they are forced to deal with their shared history of unresolved conflict. Their tension is highly palpable in every interaction; and their yearning and longing that would not be suppressed despite their turbulent past make for a painful, yet tantalizingly impeccable romance.

These Violent Delights also delivers compelling side characters who get involved in the fray and partake in the grisly scenes. Juliette’s cousins, Kathleen and Rosalind, and Roma’s righthand men, Benedikt and Marshall get a few of their own chapters. Their stories are equally fascinating to read as Roma and Juliette’s, and their distinct personalities greatly add to the story.

There are multiple antagonists in These Violent Delights, but this book primarily focuses on the monster lurking in Shanghai’s shadows. I have to say, in perfect honesty that the monster’s chapters are actually my favourite parts of the book. I attribute this to Gong’s chilling writing and perfect depiction of an unknown, potentially supernatural horror. I really hope this aspect of her writing returns in the sequel.

As much as I love the disquieting portrayal of the monster, however, I found myself as horrified by the way Western imperialism seeps into the city. It is as much of a threat to Shanghai as the monster lurking in its shadows, yet its more subtle workings arguably make for a more horrifying force. There is something viscerally alarming in seeing Juliette and other Chinese people being helpless to do anything about foreigners making a home in a city they have no business carving a place into. Gong spares no prisoners showing even more of the insidious workings of the deeply embedded Western influence in this city and many other non-Western places (there are, of course, more ways this can happen e.g. occupation of Native American and First Nation lands, but I think there are other works that would better illustrate such instances). In fact, one could argue that Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights can be considered, in a way, a socio-cultural horror.

[I also made this sort of commentary reviewing R.F. Kuang’s The Burning God and Anna Stephens’s The Stone Knife. It makes me think whether I’m reading too much into things or there is a rising trend to explore these themes in the science fiction-fantasy genre]

Throughout the book, Juliette’s struggle to stay in touch with her heritage and her sense of belonging, a result of regularly having to push down parts of herself just to fit in the Western culture during her time in America; this aspect of her character arc perfectly segues into exploring the tensions and silent power struggle between the East and the West in Shanghai – particularly how the West has shaped the rest of the world. Numerous times, Gong laments the gross power imbalance the Westerns hold from their influence and the sense of entitlement that results from it. Many times people who do not fit in the pre-dominantly Western mold are forced to push down parts of themselves be it culture, language, or even how they interact with the “mainstream” culture. One wrong look, and the possibilities are endless – most of them usually leading to quite ugly consequences. Juliette has some pretty strong opinions about this in These Violent Delights; and believe me, so do I.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, I came in with high expectations for These Violent Delights, and it totally signed, sealed, and delivered. Angsty lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers with much yearning and longing, a chilling mystery with highly gruesome stakes, a violent blood feud coloring the glittery streets of 1920s Shanghai, and a thoughtful portrayal and commentary of Western imperialism set in a rich, layered historical setting? It’s an excellent combination for me through and through.

These Violent Delights is an intricate and sophisticated story filled with thrilling action and excitement, tinged with violence, pain, and heartbreak set in an exquisite blend of richly layered history and fiction. Gong’s gritty yet heartrending re-imagining of the Shakespearean classic has viciously carved its place in my heart as her captivating writing slices deep under the skin every chance she gets. A violent delight this book truly is.

Per the famous Shakespearean quote, These Violent Delights do have violent ends indeed…. and Chloe Gong’s superb debut masterfully sings their tune to the pandemonium of 1920s Shanghai where malice both monstrous and human swirl together in vicious harmony.

Giveaway

As part of the #DelightfullyViolentTour, Caffeine Book Tours is hosting a giveaway for one of five hardcover copies of These Violent Delights!

The giveaway is open internationally and ends on 25 November 2020. Click here to enter the giveaway :))

About the Author

Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and International Relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times.

Chloe Gong can be found on Twitter @thechloegong or her website thechloegong.com; and contacted through chloegongwrites@gmail.com.

Acknowledgements

I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of These Violent Delights from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I also received a digital review copy for my participation in Caffeine Book Tours. My many thanks for giving me the opportunity to spotlight this wonderful debut!

Tour Schedule

16 November 2020

  1. Daydreaming Ink
  2. Forever and Everly
  3. Marshmallow Pudding

17 November 2020

  1. B for Bookslut
  2. Emelie’s Books
  3. Novels and Nebulas
  4. The Quiet Pond

18 November 2020

  1. Chasing Faerytales
  2. Discover Elysian
  3. Hammock of Books
  4. Utopia State of Mind

19 November 2020

  1. A Whisper of Ink
  2. delphreads
  3. Teatime Book Reviews
  4. Truffle’s Literary Wonders

20 November 2020

  1. Bookevin
  2. Love Yo Shelf
  3. QuillTreeFox
  4. Too Much Miya

21 November 2020

  1. Bookwyrming Thoughts
  2. Lyrical Reads
  3. Vanshika’s Books
  4. Your Tita Kate

22 November 2020

  1. mybookcastle
  2. READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA
  3. Read by Tiffany
  4. The Books are Rising [You are here ✅]

2 Replies to “These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong (These Violent Delights #1)”

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