ARIS Reviews: The Final Review of These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Hello! Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my remarkable review on Chloe Gong’s debut novel: These violent delights. This book is the first in an incomplete duology and it was absolutely… Well, you should read this (remarkable) review to find out.
Let us start then, chronologically of course, and just a little warning; there will be minor spoilers in this review. A simple synopsis: Roma and Juliette are heirs of rival gangs, the Russian White Flowers and the Scarlet Gang of Shanghai respectively. The rivalry started generations ago, yet the blood they spill from one another today is still just as red. (Oh and if it wasn’t obvious enough, Roma and Juliette used to love each other at ages 15, up until Roma’s betrayal wounded Juliette greatly.) Now they’re enemies and need to come together to defeat a common enemy - a monster that lies in the depths of the Huangpu river and has been terrorizing Shanghai. With Juliette’s hatred for Roma still as fresh as ever, you can see why this might be a challenging task.
“In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens.” Can we please talk about the pre-eminence of this first line? Definitely in my top 5. The book starts off with Juliette’s return to Shanghai - right in time for the iridescent Mid-Autumn festival - having been residing in New York for the past few years. She’s seen talking to a certain British dealer at a burlesque club about a new “product” to introduce into the black market when Roma strolls in and years of hatred flash between the two. Roma’s purpose for showing up was the pressing need to discuss the death of a few members of the White Flowers, one night prior. This was a common occurrence. Members of the opposite gangs killed each other whenever they pleased, so Juliette didn’t care much for it. That was before Roma said a Scarlet member was also found dead at the scene. To have victims from both gangs present at the same scene? Not a common occurrence. Oh, and did I mention the cause of death was that their throats had been ripped open? Yeah, yikes. Juliette still doesn’t particularly care about what Roma has to say and asks (threatens would be a better word) him to leave when Roma serves Juliette with an agonizing “What happened to you?” Which honestly, I think is uncalled for. Like bro? Your betrayal happened to her. Before she can reply, a man is seen thrashing on the floor of the club and battling with himself. Juliette runs to the commotion and is shocked at what she finds. His hands are at his neck. He is ripping his throat open.
Phew, that was practically the entire first chapter. Will only be addressing key topics from now on! Two of Juliette’s cousins are introduced: Kathleen, whom I love very much and Rosalind, who is… slightly irritating. (Also, I’m dying to mention two of my beloved characters, but for the sake of going chronologically… we’ll just have to wait.) We then get to see Juliette’s interaction with her family, and get to explore some of her power struggle in the family. The power struggle of being heir, is mainly due to her being seen as inferior/incompetent because of her gender. Especially by an exceedingly vexatious cousin of hers. When Tyler (said cousin) slams her into a wall and accuses her of hosting affection for Roma, she fights right back. With a knife. Tyler’s constant need to pour scorn on everything Juliette does is due to his obvious affinity for the title of the heir. Juliette, our sweet girl, simply tells him: “I am the heir of the Scarlet Gang, and believe me, tángdì, I will kill you before I let you take it from me.” So yeah, as I should’ve pointed out earlier, I love Juliette.
Moving on, two beloved characters coming up! Benedikt and Marshall, or as I lovingly like to call them - Ben and Mars. I adore them infinitely. Benedikt is Roma’s cousin, and Marshall a friend. This trio is prominent throughout the book. As the book goes on, and more white flowers are introduced, politics begins to become a main theme, which, albeit slightly confusing, is also fun to navigate. Through all this we get to see Roma expressing his thoughts on his encounter with Juliette; “Seeing her again was like finding the corpse beneath the floorboards to not only have resurrected but to be pointing a gun right at his head.” Great Poe reference there man.
Roma keeps up with his attempts to talk to Juliette about the tearing-your-own-throat-out issue, but she - for obvious reasons - does not want to associate with him. They soon have another encounter, one of my favourites if I’m being honest. Roma comes to her for information. They have a little fight and Juliette manages to disarm him of his gun and tackle him to the ground at knifepoint. He asks her to let him go, and when she refuses:
‘ “Click. The echo of the safety being pulled on a handgun sounded into the alley. She turned her gaze back to Roma and found him smiling, his beautiful, wicked lips quirked in mockery. “What?” Roma asked. He sounded almost teasing. “You thought I only had one?” ‘
I just very much enjoyed this scene. Like, a lot.
This skirmish allows Juliette to understand that if she wants to stop the deaths of her people, she needs Roma’s help, just as he needs her. The working together starts here! They (along with the help of Ben and Mars) soon find out the cause of the throat ripping madness. Spoiler: Lice-like insects jump from one person’s hair to another, infiltrate a person’s scalp and seep inside, causing them to harm themselves. So basically, you need to stay far away from whoever has the madness, or the insects might infiltrate you as well. While receiving information, Ben and Mars bicker and Roma wonders whether “Benedikt and Marshall were fated to eventually kill each other or kiss each other.”
Now something you should know about Juliette is that working with Roma, definitely does not stop her from working around him. She still absolutely hates him, and distrusts him. So her separate quest leads her to the office of Zhang Gutai, Secretary-General of the Communist party, who she suspects has some sort of link to the madness. Who she doesn’t expect to find in Gutai’s office though, is Roma. She immediately assumes he’s here for information too, but in reality, he is just here on business for his father. Juliette needed to make sure that whatever information was available, she got to it first because if the White Flowers got to it before her, it might as well be the Scarlet Gang’s downfall.
Though the meeting with Zhang Gutai was a waste of time, Juliette did find drawings of a creature in the office which she pocketed. Roma, still convincing Juliette that they need each other's help, has a few more encounters with her, during one of which, he tries to convince her that his father - the leader of the White Flowers - wants to form an alliance with the Scarlets to stop the madness.
We soon get to meet Roma’s little sister, Alisa. She’s sort of a neglected child, Roma loves her, and precisely because of that, he keeps her in the dark about the details of the horrible occurrences that have been taking place recently. He did, however, stress on staying far away from anyone who is infected. Something about Alisa, is that she is a wonderful spy, and doesn’t stay hidden too long. We follow her through the streets of Shanghai when she sees a victim lying in their pool of blood. Alisa recognized the signs of the madness and thought of Roma’s warning. Sadly, thinking about it was all she did. She gets closer to the victim, as close as putting her ear to their mouth to listen for breaths. I think we can all guess what happens next. Thankfully, when the madness does take over, and Alisa starts launching her fingers at her throat, Roma is present. He, along with the help of Ben, Mars and Juliette, takes her to a hospital and has her sedated so she cannot try to harm herself.
Roma is now more than desperate to find a cure for this, if only to save his sister’s life. He begs Juliette for her help and she concedes. ALSO, ON A VERY UNRELATED NOTE: before all of this, there is a very short scene of Ben and Mars where Ben is drawing while the two are having a conversation. All throughout the conversation, we have no idea what Ben is drawing, then, just as their chapter ends, Mars leans over Ben’s shoulder and says “My nose is not that big.” SO YEAH. Unimportant for the progression of the story but very important for my wellbeing.
But yes, things progress. Roma and Juliette get closer and closer to the root of this disease and by spending so much time together, comes the long-awaited conversations of their history. On one occasion, Roma tells her what a good team they used to be as kids, and Juliette scathingly tells him that none of it was real. On another occasion, during an intimate moment, Juliette tells Roma to call a truce. ‘ “We are not at war,” Roma replied softly. “Why call a truce?” Juliette shook her head. “Aren’t we?” We are.'
Right after that, the confession comes. Roma answers the big question. Why? Why did he betray her all those years ago? The answer, if I may say so, was cliché and anticlimactic. It was the reason that is always the reason. I won’t disclose it for the sake of it being a spoiler but those are my thoughts. In the wake of the confession, Roma says “This is why my betrayal was so terrible. Because you believed me incapable of hurting you, and yet I did.”
This really gave us a look into the unwavering trust Juliette had in Roma. That’s why betrayals hurt a lot don’t they? Because they come from people you love and trust. So, after tears and forgiveness, a reconciliation happens. Too bad it doesn’t last. Hahahahaha... :(
The reason it all goes so horribly wrong is because of the one and only, Tyler. Roma and Juliette leave for the hospital to meet Ben and Mars and help Alisa. Tyler shows up unexpectedly and catches Juliette with the trio, and he hasn’t come alone. Having a few of the Scarlets with him as witnesses, he tries to paint Juliette as a traitor. She takes out her gun and Tyler says “Tell me, tángjiě. Who are you aiming at right now?” Which is like, wow dude, I hate you, but like… great job in putting her in such a compromising position.
The events that follow are devastating to say the least. Roma still chooses to defend Juliette, and she wonders why, when a voice in her head responds: “He stays for you. He will not walk away from you. Not a second time. He would rather die.” and just as heartbreakingly, it continues “Juliette supposed it was her turn to walk away.” Juliette makes choices that Roma doesn’t understand, and all of a sudden, they’re back in Shanghai circa 1922, mere 15 year olds who, notwithstanding rivalry, were in love until one betrayed the other. GASP. Only this time it was Juliette and not Roma. The lover and the liar, the liar and the lover. They switched those roles between themselves like it was a game.
Painfully enough, the end of their short reconciliation was not the only upsetting thing to happen towards the end of the book. The epilogue was… incredible. Before reading it, I thought this was quite an adequate book, but it’s marvelous how a mere 8 pages can change everything. Things came together while simultaneously falling apart. I had a huge “OH!” moment and an even huger “NO!” moment. Did I cry? I dunno, are Ben and Mars the best boys to ever exist? Yes. The answer is an unequivocal yes. If they do not end up together in the second book I will never recover. Yes, yes, Roma and Juliette were really cool but Ben+Mars4life you know? So all in all, this book gets a fantastic emoji from me! ☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️. Suns all around! So many of them we might have to call in Hou Yi (Legend of Chang’e reference hehe). But yes, please go read it! It was such an awesome book. The second part “Our violent ends” comes out on the 16th of November, which, luckily for me, is just a day after my birthday! I’m really so excited! If you end up reading this novel, do let me know and we can cry about Ben and Mars together :’)
Until next time!