These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
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.
one-sentence review: Chloe Gong has breathed life into this retelling of Romeo and Juliet, creating a rich world with fully realized characters who, while they resemble their Shakespearean counterparts, feel completely unique.
full review: It has been nearly four months since I read THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, and I can still recall the exact feeling I had when I read the last page of the epilogue. In fact, I can remember the words I said when I finished the book: HOW CAN SHE END IT LIKE THAT? WTF?
And I mean that in the best possible way: Chloe Gong DID THAT. She put her own spin on Romeo and Juliet, with 1920’s Shanghai serving as the perfect backdrop. As someone who believes that everyone who says “Romeo and Juliet is overrated” is completely WRONG, she has transformed the source material into her own. It pays homage to key plot points in Romeo and Juliet, then blows it all up in the end. I won’t spoil it, but just know that everyone yelling about the ending and how they feel emotionally compromised by it? It’s all true.
Juliette Cai is vengeance incarnate, someone who is willing to do what it takes to prove herself worthy as the heir to the Scarlet Gang. Juliet Capulet has always been one of my all-time favorite characters, and her active role in her destiny is mirrored in Juliette. Meanwhile, Roma Montagov is a simp. That boy worships the ground Juliette walks, and let’s be real: she could absolutely yeet him like a football. In the end, that’s really who Romeo is: a romantic who’s forced to make decisions that he doesn’t agree with, but must go along with anyway. These two flawed characters and their chemistry helped make this book difficult to put down.
The side characters are also amazing, especially all the scenes between Benedikt and Marshall. I also loved Kathleen and Rosalind and their tense, sisterly dynamic.
THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS was one of my favorite books that I read in 2020, and I can’t wait to reread it. I also can’t wait for the sequel, when I assume Chloe will rip out my heart and tear it to pieces AGAIN.