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.
I was given an ARC of this book by the author; this does not influence my opinions outlined in this book review.
How do you even begin to write a review for one of your most anticipated reads of 2020 that didn’t just exceed your expectations, but its story stabbed you in the heart, sucked the lifeforce and tears out of you, and made you ache and feel horror all at once – and by the end you wanted to thank Chloe for it?
I hosted the exclusive cover reveal for These Violent Delights back in February this year, and whilst I knew that Chloe’s book was going to be great, I had no idea that it would be mindblowingly phenomenal. I almost want to take a time machine and tell past-CW that she was doing a cover reveal for one of her favourite books of 2020 – and even if that raised past-CW’s expectations of These Violent Delights to new heights, I think, even then, this book would have exceeded my expectations nonetheless.
This is a long walk to say: These Violent Delights is a phenomenal book and a wonder of a debut. And if you don’t pick this up come November (though, do check the trigger warnings!), then I can almost guarantee that you will regret not reading it sooner.
These Violent Delights is a historical young adult novel with science-fiction/fantasy elements and a stunning retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Taking place in 1920’s Shanghai, the story follows Juliette Cai and Roma Montanov, heirs to the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers respectively, enemy gangs with a blood feud as bloody as it is violent. When a madness sweeps the city, the two heirs reluctantly team up to solve the mystery that enshrouds the deaths – otherwise there may not be a city left to rule.
You will see this as more people read and review this, but I feel like something we will all agree on is that Chloe’s writing is riveting. The story begins in the Huangpu River and it begins with three things that intrigued me immediately: death, a monster, and a mystery. And I’m going to be honest with you: what follows thereafter is even more death (and the deaths are brutal, bloody, and terrifying), more of the monster that plagues the city and will pique your curiosity (and we are fed small spoonfuls of this monster that aren’t enough to satisfy our curiosity but are enough for us to want to read more), and a mystery that is so good and compelling that you will be guessing and questioning everything while enjoying the story.
Thereafter is a story that you will not easily forget. These Violent Delights is filled with so much foreboding and intensity that your heart will pound while reading. Readers who have already read the original Romeo and Juliet will delight in the nods and references in These Violent Delights and will also feel that delicious dread of knowing what might happen. I felt so stressed reading this book – though, it was the good kind of stress! It was the kind of reading-stress where you feel engaged and can’t look away because the stakes are high, the tension is palpable, and you come to care deeply for the characters. From the very first death, you’ll know that Chloe did not come to play with this story – and that should scare and excite you.
One of the best things about These Violent Delights is that the twists and reveals are brilliantly done. There’s a fine line between a story being too predictable and thus detracting from the impact of the twist and a story that forsakes meaningful buildup in favour of an ‘unpredictable’ twist that no one sees coming (which I find very frustrating). Rather, the storytelling in These Violent Delights takes time to lay the groundwork without overwhelming exposition and builds and builds momentum until you are hurtling towards the end, wide-eyed and horrified. In essence, These Violent Delights is one heck of a ride and I envy everyone who gets to read and experience this for the first time.
This book review makes it sound like These Violent Delights isn’t a fun read – with all the dread and horror and stress – but trust me: if you can bear the gore and violence (it is never gratuitous, though it is quite visceral) , then you will completely understand what I mean when I say that this book is so fun in a dark and twisted way. Aside from the intrigue and the mystery, for readers who like socio-political commentary, These Violent Delights also offers subtle commentary on foreign and Western colonialism in Shanghai, gender expectations and racism. Better yet, the inclusion of these themes felt organic and meaningful to the wider story and its characters.
The nice thing about These Violent Delights is that it’s not entirely all doom (well, maybe there’s always a lot of doom) and gloom. There are some truly wonderful characters in this book that you will come to love and adore – sisters Rosalind and Kathleen (the latter is trans!) of the Scarlet Gang, and Marshall and Benedikt of the White Flowers. I often struggle to connect to side characters, but I connected and felt so invested in all four of these characters instantly; they enrich the story and have important roles to play.
Most of all, you’ll definitely love Juliette and Roma, two fascinating, fleshed out, and well-written characters who both have perspectives in the story. I loved how their stories came together; loved learning about their past, love reading their banter and the tension between them, and how much they yearn for a future they can never have because of the blood feud and their respective stations within the gangs.
Amidst all the death and violence and fallout of the madness, there is so much tenderness between them; tenderness that is fraught, but tenderness that has so much history and longing and yearning. This tenderness between Juliette and Roma, I believe, is what elevates the book to be more than just a good bloody and brutal story. More, it makes it great because tenderness between them raises the stakes to insurmountable heights for these characters whom you want to be together despite — well, we all know what happens in Romeo and Juliet. Chloe has written star-crossed lovers/lovers-to-enemies like I’ve never read before, and if you love yearning, then trust me: you’ll love These Violent Delights.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
If this book – her first published book – is any indication of the books that Chloe will write, then I will follow her and her books to the ends of the earth. These Violent Delights is a stunning debut. Yes, you may feel shattered by the end and maybe a little itchy (yes, itchy!), but it is truly a thoroughly fantastic and incredible book. And I don’t say things in my book reviews unless I absolutely mean it, so listen: Read it come November, because I genuinely think These Violent Delights has the potential to be the ‘next big’ YA.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Two teen heirs on opposite sides of a blood feud must work together in order to stop a mysterious madness sweeping across Shanghai.
Perfect for: Readers who love retellings, specifically Romeo and Juliet; readers who enjoy a dark and twisty mystery; readers who love yearning
Think twice if: you are turned off by the idea of graphic violence and gore.
Genre: young adult historical fantasy (it’s genre-bending! has fantastical/SFF elements)
Trigger/content warning: mentions and descriptions of blood, violence, gore, character deaths, explicit description of gouging self (not of their own volition), murder, weapon use, insects, alcohol consumption, parental abuse