Where do I even begin with this one? I guess we can start with the synopsis!
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is set in 1920s Shanghai. We have two rival gangs, the Cais and the Montagovs, locked in a blood fuel that’s gone back generations. Their two heirs, Juliette and Roma, were once lovers in their young teenage years, but a betrayal broke them apart and sent them separate ways. Now, Juliette Cai is back and ready to take on more of a role as the next Cai leader, even as she continues to feel like an outsider in her own country. Roma Montagov is not the heartless heir his father wants him to be, and this lack of brutality haunts him everyday. Our two star-crossed lovers are determined to stay away from each other, especially given the betrayal that lies between them, but there’s something brewing in Shanghai that has other plans. There’s a madness or a monster or possibly both gaining power, lurking in the shadows, and killing people from both their gangs. These young heirs realize that, in order for either of their gangs to have a chance at survival, they must work together before this monster or madness or both destroys Shanghai from the inside-out.
These Violent Delights is an incredible and atmospherically rich historical fantasy retelling of the classic Romeo and Juliet. Chloe Gong delivers more than just a rudimentary and run-of-the-mill retelling; she delivers a story steeped in culture, decadence, and awareness. Gong’s writing pulled me in from page one, as it’s lyrical, beautiful, and gut wrenching all at once. Certain moments are written as if Shanghai itself is a character, responsible for its own decisions and fates.
We usually think of Juliet as a young and naive damsel in distress; there is none of that in Gong’s Juliette. Our female lead expertly flips the damsel-in-distress perception on its outdated head. Instead, we follow a calculating, shred, highly intelligent gang heiress whose not afraid to get her hands dirty. Gong infuses intention into Juliette’s intensity, ferocity, and quickness to action. At the same time, Gong preserves the idealism and optimism of Romeo in Roma. Roma is emotional and a fiercely loving young man trying to keep his grip on his birthright. I found both renditions of our star-crossed lovers to be realistic, refreshing, and dazzling.
This wouldn’t be a retelling, of course, if there weren’t elements of the original present. Personally, I am a fan of the subtle retelling, and that’s just what Gong delivers. If you are familiar with R&J, you’ll immediately be able to place and recognize certain characters and moments within the story, such as the famous balcony scene or the masquerade ball or the devilish Tybalt or loyal Mercutio. The parallels between major players from the original play and those within the story were sharp and clear without berating readers or holding our hands. Gong trust us to make the necessary connections in order to fully appreciate the breadth of her retelling while also trusting that she’s laid the necessary clues and Easter eggs for us to pick up on. She provides a fresh and innovative version of Romeo & Juliet that stands on its own while still expertly weaving in remnants of the original story.
These Violent Delights deals with themes of colonizations, loyalty, family and found family and its complications, greed, betrayal, and the cycle of gang violence. If you’re looking for a dark and complex YA Historical Fantasy that’ll feed your soul and makes excellent commentary, look no further. Lucky for us, the release date for the sequel Our Violent Ends was recently announced (November 16th); I’m looking forward to the cover reveal!
Thank you so much for reading. If you liked this review and what to read more, make sure you’re following my blog. I post daily content over on my Bookstagram (@BookinItWithAhtiya), so make sure you’re following me over there as well! Are you planning on reading These Violent Delights or have you read it already? What were your thoughts? Leave a comment down below!