These Violent Delights
by Chloe Gong
These Violent Delights ended up being my Book Of The Month (no, I’m not affiliated with them, I just use their service) pick for November, and was later announced as our first book for the Moods and Pages book club hosted by Donna! This was pitched as a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in Shanghai in the 1920’s, and boy oh boy are those three things some of my favorites. Check mark for Shakespeare. Check mark for location. Check mark for historical setting. I was ready to dive head first into this novel.
I think what messed up this experience for me was going into this book thinking this would be a direct retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Spoiler alert: it’s not…sort of at all? When we discussed this in the book club a majority of us agreed that this would have been a better reading experience if we went in NOT knowing this was based on the play. While the names, specific quotes, and minor plot points are the same, the overall plot and story arch differ so vastly that I don’t think I was able to enjoy this as much as I should have.
What I did adore about Gong’s writing was her way with her characters. I wish we had more time with them to explore what made them tick, their humor, and their tragedies. Gong’s writing is eloquent, sharp and flowery, and weaves from thought to action with expertise.
I also really enjoyed the expansive background stories each character was weighed down by, including a character that was represented as transgender. However, I’m curious to see what other readers and reviewers who identify as transgender thought about the way this character was able to transition.
In my opinion, this book should have been pitched as gangs and gore, because there is no shortage of either. I’m not a huge fan of gore, or things that make people squeamish, and the main villain in this book was so creepy and disgusting that I could not read this book before going to bed without having vivid nightmares. I’m honestly a self proclaimed baby when it comes to subjects like this, but I think fans of Stephen King and Shakespeare might thoroughly enjoy this story in ways that I didn’t.
This book brought a lot of great discussion to our book club chat, including fated characters. Many of the members felt emotional when thinking about how both our main characters are born into the gang lifestyle, with no clear way out. This is something both characters struggled with in their own ways, and I’d be curious to know if Gong will find a way for these characters to escape their birthright as heirs to rival gangs.
Unlike the original Romeo and Juliet, this book was not a standalone. I’m not sure if I’m ready to continue this series when it is published. I think I need to reread this book with the context I’ve gathered, knowing that it is not a direct retelling, and see if that changes my overall reading experience. I do think a lot of readers will enjoy this if they want a historical and fantastical look at gang life in Shanghai in the 1920’s, and monsters who hunt regardless of affiliations.