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The year is 1926 and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery : ‘These Violent Delights’ by Chloe Gong – Book 1

8 months ago

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By Mineli Kahanda Synopsis A blood feud between two gangs turns the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is 18-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang – a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love… and first betrayal. But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper – of a contagion, a madness; a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns – and grudges – aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule. Perfect for fans of ‘The Last Magician’ and ‘Descendant of the Crane’, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River. Writing style ‘These Violent Delights’ is a young adult historical fantasy novel published in 2020 by the Chinese-born New Zealand author Chloe Gong. Loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the book became a New York Times bestseller and earned Gong a Sir Julius Vogel Award in 2021, when the author was only 22 years old. “In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens” – from the very first sentence, Gong completely captures the interest of the reader with her poetry-like prose and descriptive writing style. The novel is written in the third person point-of-view (POV) but shifts frequently between the main characters, Juliette and Roma. However, the chapters do not stay completely faithful to the character whose POV it starts with; the narrator shifts freely between not only the main characters but also the side characters. This allows the reader to glimpse the world through the eyes of so many characters. The tension between Juliette and Roma is that of jilted exes. It makes for a lot of hilarious, bickering dialogue and understandable angst as they’re forced to work together. One of the more entertaining aspects of the story is that both Juliette and Roma are multilingual. One endlessly entertaining part of the book is when Juliette and Roma switch between different languages depending on their surroundings, and the general exploration of language. Juliette is a breath of fresh air in that she’s an elite who fully embraces her elitism. There is nothing humble or awkward about her. Part of her ruthlessness was honed by a massive, bloody betrayal by Roma that ended their young romance four years ago. It’s pretty clear early on that Roma’s hand was forced, though. He spends most of the book being very tired of all the nonsense around him. Yet, there’s an undeniable fire in him that drives him to fight to keep his position as heir because he’d probably die the moment he lost it for good. Once you find out the truth of what he did, you empathise, but you’re not sure he should be forgiven, which makes for great tension in how this would all end. ‘These Violent Delights’ holds a great deal of historical references and Gong adds to that by seamlessly blending her own craft into the chapters of history already written. Major themes Tradition vs. modernism – The combination of traditional ways against modern ideals is shown through characters like Juliette and the state of the city itself. Juliette is the epitome of this theme, as she is a girl who wants to fit in with her family while also embodying more modern ideals. When the reader is first introduced to her, she is described as a woman who is “transformed through and through, the little beads of her pocketless flapper dress swishing with every movement”. This is very different from the traditional Chinese dress and Juliette even gets angry when a member of the Scarlet Gang does not recognise her outside of her American attire. She often wonders if she can exist between both worlds and wishes she did not have to choose. The Economic effect of colonialism – Although the novel is fictional, it features the history of Shanghai during the 1920s, showing the negative impact of colonialism on the city. It depicts European powers exploiting the native Chinese residents to gain power and resources. At the start of the novel, foreign nations have carved the city into sections, leaving few “Chinese-owned zones”. The Scarlet Gang tolerates the foreigners’ presence because they stimulate the economy, and the gang stands to profit. However, Juliette worries that they are making a mistake in working with the foreigners: “Juliette feared the tables would turn suddenly one day, leaving the Scarlet Gang to realise they had found themselves standing on the outside.” Although the foreigners boost the city’s economy, this comes at a cost. Chinese residents are treated as second-class citizens and excluded from some establishments. While the madness spreads, the Europeans flaunt their wealth, ignoring the suffering of the afflicted. As a result, both the Nationalists and the Communists organise against foreign interests. Ratings Goodreads: 4/5   Waterstones: 5/5 Barnes & Noble: 4.7/5   Memorable quotes “The stars incline us; they do not bind us”  “Memories were beastly little creatures, after all – they rose with the faintest whiff of nourishment” “You know me. Running around. Living life. Committing arson” “I was raised in hatred, Roma. I could never be your lover, only your killer” “She…hoped. And hope was dangerous. Hope was the most vicious evil of them all, the thing that had managed to thrive in Pandora’s box among misery, disease, and sadness – and what could endure alongside others with such teeth if it didn’t have ghastly claws of its own?” “You destroy me and then you kiss me. You give me a reason to hate you and then you give me a reason to love you. Is this a lie or the truth? Is a ploy or your heart reaching for me?” “Don’t you dare,” Roma said. “Don’t you dare fall apart now, dorogaya” “Even the land of dreams needs to wake up sometimes” “Wasn’t playing with her heart once enough? Hadn’t he already torn her into two and left her to the wolves once before?” “That is what this city is. The party at the end of the world” “This is why my betrayal was so terrible. Because you believed me incapable of hurting you, and yet I did” “This place hums to the tune of debauchery. This city is filthy and deep in the thrall of unending sin, so saturated with the kiss of decadence that the sky threatens to buckle and crush all those living vivaciously beneath it in punishment” “Too many kind hearts turn cold every day” “You give your word. But you have always been a liar” “Sometimes it was hard for Kathleen to remember that she was still her own person, not just shards of a mirror, reflecting back a thousand different personalities most fitting for the situation” “Think about it. Those who wish to protect themselves will stay in, bar their doors, seal their windows. Those who do not care, those who are violent, those who delight in that which is terrible, they thrive. They come outside” “Even the thickest blood from the womb could run thin if given the empty space to bleed” “They say Shanghai stands tall like an emperor’s ugly daughter, its streets sprawling in a manner that only the limbs of a snarling princess could manage. It was not born this way. It used to be beautiful. They used to croon over it, examining the lines of its body and humming beneath their breath, nodding and deciding that it was well suited for children. Then this city mutilated itself with a wide, wide grin” Author description: Mineli Kahanda is a student of Lyceum International School and is also the biggest bibliophile. In her spare time, she enjoys freelance writing, watching anime, and creating art PHOTOS © COMMUNITY.FAIRYLOOT, RIVETEDLIT, PBS.TWIMG  

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