*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
Set in the year 1926, Shanghai is being hunted by a monster in the shadows. And in the heart of the city, it is being embroiled in a blood feud between the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers. Juliette has returned to the city, ready to be by her father’s side as the heir to the Scarlets. But the gangsters find themselves in trouble when a sickness forces the infected to claw out their throats. Before it destroys her people, Juliette must partner with the Flower’s heir, setting aside their personal grudges to save the city before the madness burns it all down.
The Violent Delights is one of my most anticipated reads of this year. The second I laid my eyes on that cover; I immediately ran to GoodReads to make sure I don’t forget this book exists. I won’t lie, but this book was both brilliant but still somewhat disappointing at the same time. The story follows the Juliette, recently returned from New York, and during a business meeting she is interrupted by rival heir Roma Montagov. Roma informs her of an incident where the casualties have appeared to die by their own hands. Both changed by an accident of their past, Juliette and Roma have to put aside their differences and feelings to discover the truth.
I liked the story for most parts, but the start of the novel is rather disappointing. It kicks off relatively strong, the death of gang members with no real cause, Roma making the brave move to enter the Scarlet territory to find Juliette and the both of them trying to figure out what’s happening. There are so many components to this story that appear so exciting and unique, but I found its execution rather clumsy, to say the least. The story hooks you in really well within this 1920s Shanghai as it faces trouble from its citizens and foreigners alike. The impact of colonialism takes centre stage in the setting, and Gong builds up a formidable background. The stakes are high as Juliette as to figure out what the monster is and how it’s linked to the death of her people. With foreigners like the British, French and Russians moving in the background, Juliette almost feels like a stranger in her own city, and you feel it too as a reader.
As you settle into the story, it quickly beings to falter and drag on its own feet. Juliette can’t seem to get her parent’s approval, while Roma’s father ignores most of his findings, which leads to them working together and then the story doesn’t know what to do. There’s a lot of starting and stopping, and it breaks the momentum and pacing a lot. There’s a specific moment when you realised the story gains its drive again, but before that happens, it feels like it’s just kicking rocks, waiting for that push to continue. Juliette and Roma had met years prior, but an accident separates them, leaving Roma in Shanghai and Juliette returning to New York. I just didn’t feel any chemistry whatsoever. All of their feelings are buried in the past, and for plot’s sake, it was all withheld so in the last second, it makes for a theatrical scene. It just didn’t work out as well because the everything before that scene was so lacklustre.
The characters that aren’t Juliette and Roma are the saving grace of this entire book for me, personally, and why I’ll patiently be counting down the days for its sequel. Roma’s side includes Benedikt, his cousin, and Marshall, who form his closest circle. He also has his sister, Alyssa. Juliette’s team includes her twin cousins, Kathleen and Rosalind, and another cousin, Tyler. The characterisation of these secondary characters was so much better than anything that happened between Juliette and Roma, and I feel bad for saying that I was more interested in their lives than what was happening between the leads. The moments when they appear, the story becomes alive and engaging, and when we return to the main story, it feels like a giant step back. Towards the end of the story, as I mentioned, it gains its momentum well. And while it took me days to get to the 50% mark, I found myself speed reading to reach the end, and it was so much more entertaining.
Overall, These Violent Delights wasn’t precisely what I had anticipated, but I’m very excited to see what happens in the sequel. Despite my dispositions, Gong does a great job here in her debut. I did love how she had taken the story of Romeo & Juliet and adapted it to her cultural background and history. While the story wasn’t for me at the start, the ending redeems itself 100% over. It’s a story of identity and family and with the fantastic imagery and political backdrop, I’m still very interested in seeing what happens next for the Scarlet Gang and White Flowers.