Gangsters can be monstrous, but what if there was an actual monster hunting the gangsters themselves? In These Violent Delights, author Chloe Gong places us in the middle of 1920s Shanghai when gang tensions are high and a monster is wreaking havoc. If you’re looking for a fast-paced story with a lot of action and an intriguing mystery, this is the book for you.
The inhabitants of Shanghai are too busy indulging in the city’s night-time splendor to hear the screaming at the docks. A shootout between the city’s rival gangs would not normally arouse suspicion, but no bullets were fired in this altercation—the men met their demise after encountering a monster. Juliette Cai, heir of the Scarlet Gang, and Roma Montagov, heir of The White Flowers, begin to see their people and city afflicted by the monster’s madness. Their territories are no longer safe from outbreaks, and the two gangs have a tenuous hold on the city. With unresolved betrayals and an ever-present blood feud, Juliette and Roma must work together to stop a monster before their city is lost.
These Violet Delights is a fun take on Romeo and Juliet simply because the setting and premise are intriguing. It’s not every day you get to read about rival gangs hunting down a monster. Additionally, the setting absolutely steals the show. It’s as alive and dynamic as the chaotic Shanghai streets at the turn of the 20th century. Deals are made and lost in dark clubs, streets are congested with food vendors, gangsters walk confidently through secret backdoors, and fishermen make their living along the Huangpu River. The story sets an incredible stage for the reader to immerse themselves in a city overflowing with life, death, and chaos.
However, both Shanghai’s glamour and dark underbelly overshadow the cast of characters. While I found the main and supporting characters interesting, they lack the depth required for me to root for them in a meaningful way. I felt a deeper connection with the places they navigated than the people themselves. Often, I didn’t get the satisfaction of uncovering who the characters were because I was always told who they were supposed to be as people. Once their role was established, the characters remained flat and rarely evolved. The characters may be lackluster, but the book is primarily plot-driven and you can still have a lot of fun along the way.
It’s easy to get distracted by the monster and the story’s high adrenaline, but there is a lot of turmoil lurking beneath the surface if you focus hard enough. Shanghai is a brilliant spectacle, but it’s also losing itself to the encroaching West. The influx of foreigners begins to warp the language, customs, and traditions that Juliette and her family must accommodate in order to run their beloved city. Juliette struggles with the duality of who she is. Having lived in both Shanghai and New York, she is a combination of two very different worlds and eras. It seems impossible for Juliette to find a place in the world, and it’s incredibly isolating to watch her grasp onto Shanghai and that piece of her identity when it’s changing rapidly. Gong subtly calls attention to Juliette’s inner turmoil and never lets it dominate the story, but it’s these little moments that stand out to me the most.
You don’t have to pick between the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, but you do need to pick up These Violent Delights. It’s a fun and unique twist on Romeo and Juliet, and I guarantee 1920s Shanghai is a city you want to get lost in.
Rating: These Violent Delights – 7.0/10