Review: These Violent Delights
Updated: Jun 3
These Violent Delights sits among promising novels in The New York Times' bestselling list since its debut last November 2020, and continues to make critical waves across the book community for all the right reasons. Chloe Gong's debut novel set in 1920's Shanghai is a retelling of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet repackaged in a young-adult fantasy novel, with touches of socio-cultural commentaries. It follows star-crossed lovers turned mortal enemies, and heirs to two powerful rival gangs running Shanghai, Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai, along with a dynamic ensemble of characters, all working together to hunt down a monster that plagues their divided city before they lose the people they love.
Chloe Gong masterfully crafts her own world with an engaging, fast-paced narrative through strings of prose that allows the reader to capture a vivid imagery of Shanghai's glamour and gore. More of her mastery in the written context is evident by the balanced pacing of the story, without sacrificing plot points that were carefully and brilliantly delivered throughout the pages of this book.
Equally matching the captivating prose are the main and secondary characters: Roma, Juliette, Marshall, Benedikt, Rosalind, and Kathleen, all but the latter, sharing similar fates to the classic characters they were inspired from. The equilibrium between the narrative and characters is established through a series of conflicts that grapple them as they face life and death, all presented in third person point-of-view, offering readers a layered understanding of the characters' psyches. As gripping as the story gets, these individual conflicts merge at a central point that isn't just materialized as a scavenger hunt for a monster, but rather with an added immersive depth of the blood feud that exists between both gangs. As the stakes build up, emotions felt by these characters run high and are expressed through self-internalizations or outbursts that collectively enrapture readers and leave them wanting for more. Gong masterfully weaves all narrative arcs together, with notable commentaries on colonialism (my absolute favorite!), racism, privilege, and cultural norms spread across the book's pages to form such an impressive, debut masterpiece.
Despite These Violent Delights being dubbed as an original retelling of Romeo and Juliet, Gong molded existing elements from the renowned classic and made them as her own. Such an example is the ill-fated lovers trope prominent throughout the book, where Gong cleverly modifies and re-introduces it anew in a way that fits the historical, fantasy context. The classic touches of the love story were deconstructed and reformed into something unrecognizable and unpredictable, until the reader gradually uncovers them. With such brilliant writing and discreet reimagination of the classic, These Violent Delights has become one of my favorite retellings and probably one of the best books that I've read.
All in all, These Violent Delights is a well-written, page-turning debut novel built on a gripping tale of ill-fated lovers working together with a team of dynamic, secondary characters, to keep their city from falling apart, all the while propelling readers into emotional heights as the story progresses. With such a perfectly executed reimagination of the classic, These Violent Delights sits on top with a five-star rating.