Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights, a stunning debut, is a re-imagined take on the classic Romeo & Juliet, where feuding families, forbidden love, and a plague, which engulfs the city, is refreshing. It’s 1926, and the divided city of Shanghai — foreign powers who carved out areas for themselves, and the remaining shared between the rivals, Chinese Scarlet Gang and the Russian White Flowers is preparing itself for a war it does know is brewing. Juliette Cai has returned after four years from her exile in New York, complete with a ruthless reputation as she prepares to step into her role as the heir of Scarlet Gang. Between turning profits at her burlesque club, battling cousins for power in the family, Juliette is also drawing battle plans against Roma Montagov, the heir apparent for White Flowers, whose betrayal four years ago, led to the death of countless Scarlet Gang members.
Image via: Hodder & Stoughton
Roma, unlike, Juliette, is struggling to maintain his role as heir apparent in his gang; not for his ruthlessness, but rather for his stance of maintaining and wanting peace, following the death of his mother, four years ago. But, when a strange plague starts spreading in the city, leaving behind a trail of dead bodies found in contorted shapes, Juliette and Roma are forced to set aside their feud, and undeniable attraction, and form an alliance to find out who or what is behind the senseless and random killings in the city. Keeping their alliance hidden from their families, as they search for clues to catch the monster, Roma and Juliet re-discover the spark that bought them together four years ago.
What is ironic that in a story where the characters are inspired from one of the most famous romantic tragedies in the world, romance is almost a second thought. Yes, there are numerous callbacks to the classic — the names of characters, scenes, but the novel focuses primarily on themes of family, honour, feud, loyalty, which take on a more significance meaning, given the Asian influences, and how they affect our main characters. Gong writing is powerful and she creates a narrative that is gripping, complex and immersive. The historical accuracy of the events, some fantastical elements thrown in for kicks, the ease with which the characters switch between multiple languages (a distinct trait that can only happen in a city where multiple cultures dwell) are astute additions, which enhance the whole plot.
Yes, it does end on a cliffhanger, but fret not, the sequel, Our Violent Ends, is due in November, and we’ll know, if Roma and Juliette avoid the fate of the original lovers and if there are any more monsters lurking in the shadows.
If you enjoyed reading this review, here are three other books that re-imagine the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet
The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
Image via: Wednesday Books
Palomas and Corbeaus are rival circus performing families who keep their distance from each other. But, when Cluck Corbeau saves Lace Paloma’s life, sparks fly as their families light their torches and sharpen their pitchforks.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Image via: Vintage
R, a zombie is going through an identity crisis. He has met Julie, a girl, and something inside him begins to bloom. He doesn’t want to eat her, but instead wants to protect her. But their unlikely bond will cause a ripple in their own worlds, but R and Julie won’t give up without a fight.
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord
Image via: Macmillan US
Pepper and Jack are children of rival sandwich company owners, and when accusations fly online about a stolen grilled cheese recipe, both engage in what is a very public Twitter spat, replete with memes and subtweets. Little do they know that in private, they are falling for each other on an anonymous chat app that Jack developed. All is fair in love and cheese.