Review: These Violent Delights

Review: These Violent Delights

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*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.


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Review: The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1)

Review: The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*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.*

Sixteen-year-old Deka fears for her life in anticipation of the blood ceremony that will declare her human or an abomination. On the day of her ceremony, her blood runs gold, and the village turns on her. Until a mysterious woman arrives with an offer: submit to the Emperor by joining his army of gold-blooded girls, known as Alaki, or stay imprisoned in her hometown. Deka proceeds to journey to the capital, joining other girls like her, girls who bleed gold and can’t seem to die—making them perfect fighters against the vicious Deathshrieks that can take down even the most seasoned warriors. As she prepares to become a soldier, Deka discovers that something is different about her power, and she must find the truth before anyone else does.

Well, I must admit, The Gilded Ones was a surprisingly brilliant read. I went into this book with a relatively neutral mindset, very enticed by its cover, and found myself enjoying this one.

The Gilded Ones is a high fantasy novel that deals with racism, xenophobia, misogyny and abuse. The world that Deka resides in is extremely patriarchal that makes young girls go through a ceremony where if she bleeds gold, she is deemed impure. This will most likely end in death or slavery. Gold-blooded girls are almost impossible to kill, their ability to heal at lighting speed makes them demons, according to the village priests. Deka goes from being the village demon to a soldier in training at one of the Emperor’s greatest training halls. The other girls hail from towns from all corner of their world, going from strangers to sisters-in-arms in just weeks.

The lore of The Gilded Ones is where I think it shines the most. Deka and the other girls are descendants of monsters which makes them extremely resilient to most damage. The origins of the death shrieks are so fascinating. The land of Otera is vast and diverse. I was conflicted on what I wanted more: continue to read Deka’s story, or wanting to read about the past. Because there’s a lot of information I think could’ve pushed to the present that would not have dragged the book down, but enhance the current world more. The worldbuilding was well-done, very descriptive, and I can imagine any sequel will build and improve upon what we see.

A high fantasy novel of this kind would not be what it is without its characters. And Namina Forna delivers! Deka starts off someone entirely innocent, due to her upbringing, and she grows up very quickly after discovering the truth. She is terrified of herself and soon realises it’s not her fault the world decided she was a demon, so why should she be afraid? The only issue I noticed was that her powers were introduced and developed very quickly. I feel like some progression could’ve been dragged over to the sequel to make it more balanced, rather than immediately push her into the role of a Chosen One. It doesn’t help that the training scenes are skipped over in favour of a time jump. The central casts are all girls who, like Deka, have been made leave home and become warriors. All of them have their own story and stand firm in their own right. Their personalities stood out, loud and distinct, not one faded into the background. And their quips are hilarious and on point.

For most of the novel, the storytelling is pretty great. The pacing and flow are pretty consistent. I’m not sure how to best describe this, and I’ll do this without mentioning any plot detail. But some moments lost momentum because we’re made to recall something that had happened previously. Something pivotal would occur in the story, and then Deka would remind us of something that happened before because it now holds relevance to the story. This didn’t impact my enjoyment while reading, nor does it affect my rating. I just noticed it happening a few times in the novel.

Overall, I was thoroughly surprised by The Gilded Ones. Much of my expectations were met, and I had a lot of fun learning about the world of Otera: one I would like to see more of the world in any upcoming sequels. The story ends in a complete way; if you had told me this was a standalone novel, I would’ve believed you. The events of the first book are tidied up quite nicely, enough that you could be satisfied to leave there if you wish, but I’ll be anticipating what happens in Deka’s story next. This series has the potential to be something extraordinary.


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Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)

Review: The Burning God (The Poppy War #3)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*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.*

This review will be spoiler-free for The Burning God, but will mention content that will be spoiler-ish to the two previous books in the series, The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic.

Betrayed once again, Rin returns home to the southern provinces of Nikara and begins to take her own stand for her future. The people of the South are fighting two battles: one with the stranded Mugen soldiers and another with the Dragon Warlord. Rin can help, but she faces even more difficulty as the Southern Coalition aren’t too happy with her arrival. But the common people rise behind her, and she quickly realises that power is within the people who are done with being treated as fodder. But will Rin be strong enough to resist the Phoenix who calls for her to burn the world, along with everyone she loves with it? As she begins to grow her army, Rin must make her final stand against the Hesperians, or lose her country to colonisers once again.

I remember reading TPW for the first time back in 2018. It was exhilarating and one of the best books I had ever read. (Still is one of the best books I’ve ever read.) Kuang makes her mark with this series, and in this finale, the stakes are higher than ever before. And I can now confirm that The Poppy War trilogy is one of the best series I have ever had the privilege to read. This trilogy is just pain in three acts. Not one of the books falter, and Rin’s story remains incredible and deeply saddening at the same time.

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Double Review: That Can Be Arranged and The Black Hawks

Double Review: That Can Be Arranged and The Black Hawks

*I received a copy of both these books via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

That Can Be Arranged

In her second comic, Huda Fahmy recounts the story of how she met her husband, Gehad. Marriage is always tricky, and especially for Huda as she faces gossiping aunties and overbearing parents who want the best for her. That Can Be Arranged is hilarious, quirky and quite refreshing. A simple story which also discusses misconceptions about the autonomy of Muslim women, and offers another way to understand what life is like for a Muslim woman in a modern age.

Fahmy’s sense of humour is strange, but I surprisingly enjoyed it. I see a lot of her art on Instagram so I knew I had to read this one. The story is practical, nothing too extreme, and I really enjoyed how open she was about her spirituality in her story. I also appreciated how she’s so unabashed when it comes to expressing all her struggles.

I’ll admit the art style isn’t my taste, but her wit and humour really makes up for it. Fahmy’s story is quick and simple, yet makes its mark about her longing to find someone, the struggles it entails and making sure she gets married for the right reason and with the right person.


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The Black Hawks

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

Bound to a dead-end job in the service of his uncle, life isn’t all that for Vedren Chel. That is until the kingdom is thrown into chaos, and Vedren finds an out: escorting the stranded prince who promises his oath would be dissolved. But dragging a prince while being hunted by enemies on all sides isn’t easy and when they find themselves in the company of the Black Hawks, Vedren’s dream to return home drifts further away from him.

It hurt a lot to not like this one. I was really excited to read The Black Hawks, but nothing was really impressive about this book at all. The pacing was all off, the fight scenes were exhilarating but they were immediately followed by extreme moments of utter nothingness.

Chel was both annoying and amusing at the same time. He doesn’t seem to do much apart from getting beat up violently and somehow surviving. The prince in question is quite immature, but we get no clarity in his age, or I either missed it. The Black Hawk Company had the makings to be so good. But their humour fell flat for me. I wasn’t sure if Chel was supposed to grow to enjoy their company or be terrified of them because, in the end, Chel comes to like them, but I don’t think that development really came through in the story.

The last quarter of the book did really interest me. But the overall story just didn’t entice me enough to care about continuing this series in the future. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. Or maybe, it just wasn’t the right time and I’ll have to check out reviews of the next book in the future to decide if this one deserves a second chance.


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Double Review: Goddess of the Hunter and Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Double Review: Goddess of the Hunter and Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Goddess of the Hunt

“Artemis was a beauty, a terror, a force that nature bowed to, but only because she had bowed to nature first.”

A poetry collection about the life of Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the Hunter. Told through her perspective with the contribution of other Greek Goddesses. Eileen reimagines Artemis’s life and interprets her vow of chastity as aromanticism and asexuality.

There’s not much I can say for this as someone who isn’t an avid poetry reader, hence the short review, but I really liked the way Eileen uses Artemis to discuss self-love, sexuality and gender. It’s been a while since I’ve read mythology, but I’ve always had a soft spot for mythological interpretations. I can’t say I connected with most of the pieces, but the concept is unique.

There are also a few pieces which are from the view of other goddesses around Artemis. I had anticipated finding this jarring, but I was wholly surprised to find that I really enjoy their snippets. It includes Demeter, Persephone, Athena and Hera. (Along with others..) It’s a fun little read for anyone.


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Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

*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.*

Why do I have to deny myself something I want right now to prepare for a future that may or may not come?”

Through the eyes of her therapist, we follow the life of Kim Jiyoung as she experiences everyday sexism all from birth, youth and into her adulthood where she becomes a stay-at-home mother, and begins to unravel under pressure.

Kim Jiyoung first came to my attention last year when a member of K-pop group Red Velvet, Irene, had recommended this book during a fan signing. I still remember the aftermath where many of her male fans cursed her, insulted her and even burnt pictures of her. Back then, a translation of the book did not exist, so when I found out it was being translated, I jumped at the opportunity to review one of South Korea’s best-selling feminist novels.

Rather than a full-length novel, Kim Jiyoung is more of a series of anecdotes – a string of events that chronicles her life, with interspersing stories of the women around her, e.g. her mother, mother-in-law and sister. The style is very objective, and the tale integrates quantitative and historical data.

The story is mainly set in Seoul, SK, but her experience is universal. Jiyoung realises from a young age that being a girl means something different, something less. She is served food last in her family, and if her siblings need to share, her younger brother is automatically given his own share while she shares with her sister. “He’s the youngest.””You mean he’s the son!” Just those two lines hit very close to home for me.

The story follows select moments of her life that reflect that society she is in. From the schoolboys who tease her to the men who force her to an uncomfortable alcohol-laden dinner party, the everyday sexism she is forced to accept slowly takes a toll on her. This book is so simple in its concept, and the fact that it angered so many men does not surprise me. It holds a mirror to their privilege without actually calling them out, uncomfortable enough to make them uncomfortable. It lays down the facts and backs itself up, sending the message that hey this is what women are facing in Korea and it’s not okay. The story of Kim Jiyoung is full of silence but every bit powerful.


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Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

Review: Girls of Storm and Shadow

*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.*

After failing to kill the Demon King, Lei and Wren barely escaped with their lives. But this isn’t the end of their journey, unaware their plot failed, the duo must travel the kingdom to gain support from clans from all corners of the world. But a heavy bounty on Lei’s head makes this even more difficult and when tensions begin to make Lei doubt what she knows, can she succeed in her quest or will the dark magic finish the war before its even begun?

After finishing Girls of Paper and Fire, I eagerly anticipated the release of Storm and Shadow. And I can say that I’m not disappointed, although I was a little underwhelmed. But I still found it a solid read.

I won’t lie, Lei, despite being our main protagonist, was not the star of the show for me. Lei and Wren are joined by others, some familiar, some new. Despite how fractured it all becomes at the end, I truly loved the moments of everyone banding together in their journey. I thought the brashness of Bo and Nitta would be off-putting, but their sibling banter was hilarious and I had come to love their sibling relationship a lot. Merrin got my attention the most, his anger and frustration with everything going on around them was admirable. My heart broke a lot during a pivotal moment in this book. Lei and Wren go through a lot in this. Wren, in particular, shocked me quite a bit. I won’t say too much, but I’m glad Ngan utilised Wren’s past a lot more in this book, a shocking revelation made a lot of sense and really amped up my excitement for whatever comes next in the finale.

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