Author: Chloe Gong
Series: These Violent Delights (#2)
Publication date: November 16, 2021
Genre: YA historical fantasy/retelling, romance
My rating: 4/5
Crackling with tension and filled with (surprise, surprise) violence, Our Violent Ends is a deliciously dark* conclusion to the These Violent Delights duology. The first book in the series smashed onto the YA scene with much fanfare, a loose retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Shanghai in the 1920’s, substituting rival gangs for feuding houses and adding a mysterious, monstrous illness. (Also, the author was literally still in undergrad when she published it, so uh…what am I doing with my life???) In this second installment, the stakes–both personal and political–are higher than ever, and the result is an action-packed, emotional whirlwind.
*I feel obligated to point out that this exact phrase, “deliciously dark,” was also used by Natasha Ngan in describing this book. I wrote this intro before looking at her quote in the official blurb. So…if two independent minds both came up with those words, you can pretty reasonably assume it’s a valid assessment.
Like most tour posts, I’ve got a review for you, a smattering of excellent quotes from the book, and, if you stick around until the end, a giveaway that you can enter to win a copy of both books in the duology for yourself! Let’s get started.
DISCLAIMER: THIS BLURB CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1, THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS. Read on at your own peril.
(I’m going to keep the book 1 spoilers to a minimum in my review, though, for whatever that’s worth. You may just want to skip this purple box if you don’t want any.)
Shanghai is under siege in this captivating and searingly romantic sequel to These Violent Delights, which New York Times bestselling author Natasha Ngan calls “deliciously dark.”
The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.
After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.
Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.
Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.
Sound good? (It is!) You can get a copy for yourself HERE!
This book is blood-soaked and brutal, in the best possible way. The constant clashes of rival gangs, plus demonstrations by the Communist and Nationalist parties, leave the pages of this book filled with gunfights, fistfights, thrown knives, fires, and explosions, a constant stream of violent uprisings punctuated by plenty of scheming, gossip, and emotions that burn just as hot as the literal flames.
It’s true, this book does follow a wide range of characters–primarily Roma and Juliette, but with snippets from Benedikt, Marshall, Kathleen, Alisa, and Tyler as well–but you can tell that Juliette is the one the author is most attached to, and her narrative arc takes precedence over anyone else’s. Frankly, I’m okay with this*: Juliette is the antihero of our dreams, whose two default reactions to feelings are “stuff it down and ignore it” or “inflict physical damage or injury on something on someone” (or, sometimes, both). She is ruthless but impulsive, a short-tempered sharpshooter, a trigger-happy gang heiress with conflicting emotions about her loyalties being torn between her family, her city, and the boy she loves. Chloe Gong does not shy away from the more jagged edges of Juliette’s character; this girl really is prepared to kill men in cold blood whenever needed, and the character’s comfort with weapons of all sorts is moderately alarming. I also appreciate the self-awareness that the author takes toward Juliette’s physical prowess–a casual comment from Lord Cai mentioning how he is surprised she can move so quickly given that she never exercises made me grin.
* That said, I would not have minded if we got a bit more of Marshall and Benedikt; their relationship is one of my favorite things. There are also rumors swirling about spinoff books based on Celia and/or Alisa, and if that’s the case, I’m totally down for it. Celia is a badass, but a smart one, who actually thinks and properly plans her schemes, and Alisa is just the right amount of feisty.
Some people have cast this book as a romance, largely because of its Romeo and Juliet influences (though, I will note that they are not quite as prominent in this book as they were in the first one). I’m not saying that it doesn’t have romance–indeed, the amount of romantic tension between Roma and Juliette is practically palpable (a certain scene on a train comes to mind)–but it really doesn’t feel like the focus of the story. As much as their romantic entanglements drive some emotions, the real focus of the story feels more political, with frequent commentary on ideas of colonialism, imperialism, and nationalism, as well as general questions of morality: Is there a point in saving a city that is full of relatively horrible people? What is an acceptable price to pay for some semblance of peace? Which is better–stability with forced division or precarious unity? At some points, the musings on these topics got a little heavy-handed. They caused the plot to drag in a handful of places, and once or twice I felt like I was being beaten over the head with them too much, but they’re still important things to discuss, so I’m not too angry about that.
On a related note, as with the first book, I really appreciated the depictions of clashing cultures that Gong included in this work. You have clubs that go by multiple names, depending on which faction is describing them (Russian, Chinese, American). You have Juliette in her American flapper dresses alongside her cousins in their traditional qipao. You have characters who are fluent in at least four languages who regularly switch up which one they are speaking in, depending on context. And of course, certain expressions from the characters are cast in their native languages inside of otherwise-English narration. As someone who’s studied Chinese, I won’t translate them all for you, but I can say that the phrase “tā mā de,” which Juliette uses multiple times, is the Chinese equivalent of a four-letter F-word. (Not going to type it here, because I don’t know how publishers feel about profanity in these reviews? But yeah, it’s there.)
As an aside, folks who aren’t familiar with French may benefit from a digital version of this book so you can easily look up the random French sentences interspersed. The surrounding text gives sufficient clues to get the gist of it, but it’s nice to have a clear translation. Alas, such translations will not be useful for Chinese or Russian, as the text shows the pinyin and Romanized versions, respectively, so Google Translate doesn’t really know what to do.
Anyway, returning to the review proper: This is overall a riveting read. The pacing is much better than the first book, even if it still does have some unnecessary lulls. The characters feel better-developed, with the possible exception of Tyler, who is still a rather two-dimensional villain. The moral gray area is just as intense, if not more so. The emotions are higher, the plot feels simultaneously easier to follow and more intricate, and in general, the entire tone is darker. And it is willing to lean into difficult questions about race, class, and colonization, which is always a plus. This may not be an ideal read for those who like clean and happy books (or endings), but if you want something gritty and full of both fights and feelings, this is a great choice.
Trigger/content warnings: insects, blood/gore/violence, kidnapping, drugging (rag with presumably chloroform?), mentions of death of children
I highlighted quite a few lines from this book, and I won’t spam you with all 20+ of them, but here are a few of my favorites:
- Power lies with the people, but loyalty is a fickle, ever-changing thing.
- For as long as they lived, so long as the city remained divided, they would kill, and kill, and kill. In the end, would it matter? When the choice was between protecting those you loved and sparing the lives of strangers, who would ever think that to be a hard decision?
- “Perhaps he thinks you are pretty.”
Juliet clicked her tongue. “He looks ready to kill me.”
“Same concept, really–“
- A revolution is never pretty. Nor is it clean, quiet.
- These past few months, she might have thought herself to be living in a dream if it weren’t for the heaviness that constantly dragged in her chest. She put her hand there now and imagined reaching in and tearing out whatever was weighing her down: the feeling of tenderness blossoming as physical flowers in her lungs, her relentless love curling in and out of her rib cage like climbing vines.
- These were the roles they had been raised to play. These were the games they knew how to win.
- “A rose is a rose, even by another name…But we choose whether we will offer beauty to the world, or if we will use our thorns to sting.”
- One life did not become forgettable merely because it was lost in the masses. She wouldn’t regret the lives she had taken, but she would remember them.
- In the end, this was all that they were. Two hearts pressed as close as they dared, shadows melding into one by the flickering candlelight.
- “They call this place the Venice of the East.”
Juliette scowled. “Just as they call Shanghai the Paris of the East,” she said. “When are we going to stop letting the colonizers pick the comparisons? Why don’t we ever call Paris the Shanghai of the West?”
- Poets spoke of internal monologues, but they were supposed to be nothing save metaphors, so why was his so loud? Why could he not shut himself up when it was just him?
- Beauty here was an art— something to perfect, and wield, and make a performance out of. In Shanghai, beauty was a transaction for one end or another.
- Who cared about values when the history books were being written? What did it matter if the history books rewrote everything in the end?
- “All we do is take from each other, break each other’s hearts in turn, and hope the next time won’t shatter us completely. When does it end?”
- It was too easy to lean into anger just for a split second of truth.
- There is an incredible amount of difference between killing an enemy too soon and killing them when the time is right.
- Nothing in this world is complicated, only misunderstood.
The other hosts on this tour have also been working hard on writing more reviews, interviewing the author, and more. We’ve got three whole weeks of content–and this is only week two! Check out the rest of the schedule HERE.
About the Author
Chloe Gong is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and International Relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear by chanting “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” into a mirror three times. You can find her on Twitter @thechloegong, check out her website at thechloegong.com or email her at email@example.com.
Ah, yes, the part you’ve been waiting for! Up for grabs today, we have away ONE (1) finished copy of These Violent Delights and ONE (1) finished copy of Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong.
This giveaway will run from November 1st through 20th at 11:59 PM CST and will be open to U.S. residents only (sorry, international pals!). One winner will be chosen.
To enter, click HERE. Best of luck!
Huge thank you to Margaret K. McElderry Books and Turn the Page Tours for providing me with an eARC of this book via NetGalley as part of my participation in this tour. All opinions are my own.