Book Review: These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong
‘These Violent Delights’ and ‘Our Violent Ends’ are Chloe Gong’s duology which retells the story of Romeo and Juliet through the lens of rival gangs in 1920s Shanghai. The first book, ‘These Violent Delights’ was published in 2020, while the sequel was released a year later in 2021.
I found that ‘These Violent Delights’ was a bit of a slow starter, providing a volume of context that the audience may not be privy to, particularly with reference to the political climate in China at the time, as well as the elements of worldbuilding, getting a feel for the loyalties within each of the gangs. However, once the plot got rolling and the madness began to plague Shanghai, the intrigue and pacing had me at the edge of my seat, and I found myself reeling, devouring several hundred pages in a day, desperate to know how the events would fall into place.
I had no such issue with ‘Our Violent Ends’, having that pre-existing knowledge of what was going on made the transition into the layers of events happening in both gangs meant I was able to become immersed in the lies and deceit between Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai, and their respective gangs, each trying to get the upper hand in turbulent times.
While the plot of ‘These Violent Delights’ leaned into the tropes from the Shakespearian play from which it was inspired, it was how, despite knowing the story of Romeo and Juliet, wanting the fate of these star-crossed lovers to end differently. The enemies-to-lovers trope was handled well, with both Roma and Juliette having blood on their hands. Knowing that in Gong’s version of their story meant that there were higher stakes compared to the original. The fourteen-year-old Juliet Capulet of Shakespeare was removed from the violence, the only blood on her hands was Romeo’s, while Juliette Cai was a cut-throat gang heiress and did not give empty threats. She was a great character, and I loved seeing what went on inside her head.
My favourite characters, however, were the side characters. Kathleen Lang, Marshall Seo, and Benedict Montagov were major players in the wider plot, each significant members of Roma and Juliette’s respective inner circles. I loved watching Kathleen immerse herself in a place that shared unspoken values, as the line between mission and morals blurred for her. However, it was Marshall and Benedict’s back-and-forth, feisty comradery, and capable leadership that had me constantly wanting more.
Chloe Gong’s work was exciting and captivating. I cannot wait to read more of her books in the future.