In One Word

In One Word, These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong is…

these violent delights

  • First published in 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Format: Audiobook
    • Narrator: Cindy Kay
    • Listening Speed: 1.5x
  • Reading Time: 4 dissatisfying days

Disagreeable

  • Did struggle a bit to find books suitable for the Popsugar Reading Challenge‘s ‘two books set in twin towns’ prompt. It was hard to find two books I would want to read that are set in twin cities and, in the end, I settled for books set in Shanghai and San Francisco respectively. This is the first half of that prompt – the year is 1926. Foreign colonisers are taking as much of Shanghai as they can get their hands on and rival gangs fight over what’s left. The two biggest gangs are the Russian White Flowers, led by the Montagov family, and the native Scarlet Gang, who have been led by the Cai family for generations. The two heirs to the gangs, Roma and Juliete, already have a lot to deal with to keep their gangs going but, now, a strange madness is spreading like a contagion throughout the city, killing its victims in a most alarming way. The only way to stop the city from being overtaken is to put aside their rivalries and work together but neither gang is at all keen on putting aside old grudges yet.
  • If it had focussed more on world building, this could have been something like The Diviners. There was some effort made to show the rampant debauchery, the increasing grip of colonial powers, the ever-expanding Communist movement and the history of the rival gangs. Unfortunately, the setting never truly felt as alive and full of history in the same way as The Diviners‘ New York or even in the way The Casquette Girls‘ New Orleans did. There was just surface-level world building in this book compared to those two. I felt so much more could have been done with the crime gangs (e.g. showing a character growing a conscience and facing how much damage they may be doing to the city in the long run) but, as it is, it just felt like a glamourous aesthetic than anything deeper.
  • Still readable and it did have a few decent moments. The little details on Chinese customs and language and on how badly Westerners can get it wrong were some of the most interesting parts. If the book had focussed more on the culture clash and the effects of colonialism on the city, I might have liked it more.
  • Aggravating lack of scenes on the monster itself so the threat never got a chance to build up properly. We had some shocking death scenes that came out of nowhere but the monster had very little time to develop aside from a rather harrowing victim examination scene and just calling it ‘the Madness’ felt rather unimaginative. It honestly would have been better if the supernatural element had been taken out altogether and the book was focussed on both heirs trying to get the respect they deserve from their families.
  • Got to say that the references to Roma and Juliete’s past relationship felt more frustrating that interesting. I wanted to know that story rather than this one and that feeling only grew as the book put all the pieces together.
  • Rather flat main characters. Some effort was made to bulk out the two leads by giving Roma a hobby and by giving Juliete a rivalry with Tyler but it just felt tacked on and didn’t get the attention it needed. I also wasn’t too convinced by the assertions that Juliete was dangerous. If the book had done more to show how vicious she can be rather than tell it, I might have liked her better. Roma ended up feeling very bland too despite the efforts to make him endearing by showing a bad relationship with his father.
  • Extremely slow pace. If it wasn’t for the fact that I couldn’t find any other books set in Shanghai that I might like, I probably would have DNFed it.
  • Entirely more interested in the side characters from both families than the main characters. Marshall and Benedict were always great fun to watch and what was got of Rosalyn and Kathleen’s story was fascinating. I wish Tyler had been built up as more a villain too. He had potential to be a character you love to hate but it wasn’t realised early enough.
  • A rather lacklustre narrator didn’t do this book any favours. Beyond switching accents, the only two voices the narrator seemed to know how to do was a normal voice and a whispery voice.
  • Biggest problem with it, in my opinion, is that it’s a retelling. It may have been one of the book’s biggest selling points but it also turned out to be its biggest weakness. It held the author back and forced the story into an unflattering shape. I ended up wasting a lot of time looking for connections with the source material and wondering how the author is going to incorporate the elements in the story rather than following the story itself too.
  • Lacked focus in general. One of the reasons why Romeo and Juliet has endured so long is because the scope was limited to just the two lovers. It’s a perfect example of a story that just does one thing but does it extremely well. This book does the opposite. It tried to do too much. As a result, nothing got the attention it needed and everything just felt average. It goes to show that it’s always better to do one thing very well in a book than do several things poorly.
  • Entirely infuriating ending. Not only is one of the big twists reversed but it also threw in a plot twist that was clearly added just to be a sequel hook. So much in this book felt unnecessary and underdone. I don’t have any confidence that the sequel will do any better. The two things I usually like in books – classic retellings and supernatural elements – did this book no favours. If it had focussed on Roma and Juliete’s initial meeting and romance, I would have liked it so much more. As it is, this feels like an unnecessary sequel to a great book that was never written.

Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Did you agree with my rating? Can you think of a better word to describe it? Please let me know with a like, share or comment.

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