Gangster, flappers and monsters shine in Chloe Gong's captivating debut 'These Violent Delights'

“These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume.” —William Shakespeare

Some may complain that there aren’t any original ideas left to be thought of, that instead everything is a remake or inspired by an existing idea. While that isn’t true, it doesn’t mean that retellings or reimaginings of existing stories aren’t worth our time or attention. Readers our latest read transports us to 1920’s Shanghai to share a story inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

In her debut novel, which had gained enough literary buzz that it was included in Book of the Month’s November selection, Chloe Gong makes a roaring appearance with her bloody and violent tale.

If you were to throw Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet” into a blender with 1920’s debauchery and glitzy Shanghai gangsters readers would find themselves with Gong’s delectable page turner, “These Violent Delights.”

The title itself is a partial quote from Shakespeare’s play and it is absolutely fitting as war breaks out in the streets between Shanghai’s rival gangs, the Scarlets and the White Flowers. Juliette Cai is the heiress to the Scarlet throne, while her ex and rival Roma Montagov is the Russian next in line to head up the White Flowers. The pair find themselves thrown together when they each try to investigate the strange madness inflicted upon the citizens of Shanghai, which causes people to tear their own throats out.

“These Violent Delights” while heavily influenced by the Shakespearean classic is not the same star-crossed tale that readers will be familiar with. Gong has taken the classic tale and rewoven it into a fresh and unique narrative featuring a maddening illness and a perplexing monster. The characters themselves are given a reimagined spin as well with Juliette coming across as a fearless and ruthless gangster and Roma acting with far more tact than Shakespeare’s Romeo managed to muster.

Readers are sure to be captivated by the glitz and grime described in Gong’s decadent story as a politically prickling Shanghai sets the backdrop for this powder keg of a tale about lovers, gangsters and the monster terrorizing the city.

From the book jacket…

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-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. Of 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.

If you enjoy…

For readers looking to enjoy more stories with a Shakespearean slant, “Hamnet” by Maggie O’ Farrell might be worth a read. The heartbreaking novel tells the story of a family living in the English countryside and how a tragedy inspired Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

tinamarie.craven@hearstmediact.com