November 13, 2020

Book Review: These Violent Delights

There is an exquisite joy in reading a book that hits the mark for you as a reader and that, my friends, was my experience with These Violent Delights. This debut young adult historical fantasy novel from Chloe Gong is set in 1920s Shanghai (!) and draws inspiration from Romeo and Juliet (!!). Throw in a blood feud between two rival gangs, mysterious deaths rooted in magic and madness, and two former paramours on opposite sides forced to work together for the sake of everything they care about, and you’ve got yourself the makings of this story.

I always underestimate how much I love a good YA historical fantasy, and These Violent Delights was an excellent reminder of why this particular sub-genre works for me. Chloe Gong does a wonderful job at weaving in so many elements I adored, including:

  • The historical setting - I’d never really read a story set in both the 1920s and Shanghai. It was fascinating to see the recognizable hallmarks of the 20s, an era I’ve always found compelling to read and learn about, and to see them in Shanghai with the specific corresponding cultural details and turbulent political climate woven in seamlessly.
  • The nods to Romeo & Juliet - Because it was the first Shakespeare play I ever read, I’ll always have a soft spot for this tragedy. I love that you can totally pick up on the nods to the original tale (the angst! the yearning! the characters, and not just their names!), but also appreciate the ways in which Chloe Gong took some creative liberties to make this story more than just a by-the-book retelling. This is the kind of retelling I want to be reading, that’s for sure!
  • The mystery and the magic - I love fantasy books that combine magic and mystery, especially with the mayhem that ensues as we race to find out what’s really going on. While there were a few predictable parts, the way this one comes together by the end is very neat, and I still enjoyed being along for the ride.
  • The gangs - I don’t read a lot of stories about gangs, but my interest is always piqued when it comes to exploring the relationship dynamics. Readers will see the internal dynamics of the power struggles and hierarchies of both the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers. But we also get to witness the external dynamics of the rivalry between the two (as well as their relationships with other groups of power), and it slowly gets revealed just what exactly sparked the heightened blood feud between them.
  • The characters - I’m a big character-driven reader! My particular fascination lies with our two main characters: Roma Montagov (the heir of the White Flowers) and Juliette Cai (the heir of the Scarlet Gang). There are so many similarities between these two: their struggle to hold their position in their gang hierarchies, the vulnerabilities they hide deep down, the desire for things to be better in the city that they love, their willingness to really do whatever they need to in order to succeed and the love and loyalty they both possess in spades. It’s incredibly compelling to see their relationship unfold on the page, since both of them are such strong personalities. 

Everything about These Violent Delights just came together beautifully, and I’m so, so incredibly awed by what Chloe Gong has managed to achieve with her debut. I was fully immersed in this story while I was reading it, that's for sure! I would definitely recommend this one (especially if you love the 1920s, gangs and rivalries or Romeo & Juliet).

(P.S. I’m still upset over that ending though. What a rollercoaster! Though, obviously, considering the source material, I should have expected no less. And now I’m highly anticipating the next book, which I needed yesterday because I need to know what happens next!)

These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights #1) | Pub Info: November 17, 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
I received an ARC from the publisher for review.


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