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An overdue (and spoiler-free!) review of “Our Violent Ends” by Chloe Gong

There was one point at which it felt like These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong was taking over Booktok. Caving into its constant presence on everyone’s “enemies to lovers” recommendations, I read it. And I loved it. These Violent Delights is a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai with a bit of twist. Officially categorized as a Young Adult Fantasy, though I would argue it’s more historical fiction with some sci-fi elements, the novel is a refreshing take on the age-old tragic tale. Our Violent Ends, the sequel and conclusion of the best-selling duology, was released in November of 2021, about a year after the release of its predecessor. However, I haven’t seen the same hype around the sequel as I did the first book. And that just cannot stand.

The beginning of the synopsis for Our Violent Ends reads, “The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.” Following the events of the These Violent Delights, without giving too much away, Juliette Cai is out to protect the city from monsters and civil war, while trying to maintain her place as the heir to the Scarlet Gang, and Roma Montagov is trying to finally live up to his place as the heir to the White Flowers and not fall into old habits where Juliette is concerned. The two are on an inevitable collision course and that just means you can’t put the book down once you get started.

Gong’s writing is vibrant and visceral. One is captivated from the very beginning. She manages to make Shanghai a character of its own, making its presence keenly felt throughout the book. This story does not just take place in Shanghai, it is deeply embedded in it, reflecting much of the historical turmoil of the city. From the water dripping from clothes hung on outdoor laundry lines to the opulent HSBC building along the Huangpu River, her detailed descriptions of the different sections of the city and seamless incorporation of context for an unfamiliar reader help make the books an experience. Gong is also unreserved about addressing Western imperialism and colonization. In an interview she stated, “I’ve always adored the Roaring ’20s aesthetic, but there was something especially delicious about Shanghai at this time — the good, the bad, and the ugly where the streets were soaked in debauchery, but it was efforts of foreign colonialism that caused the sense of party in the city…so it was just a perfect setting for me to really sink into and explore!” She explores the nuances of cultural hegemony as well as the more tangible effects of foreign settlements. In making Shanghai such a dominant presence throughout the duology, Gong forces the readers to take a long hard look at its history, at the ramifications of a city undergoing an identity crisis.

The characters! Oh, the characters. These books are rich with depth and dimension. Juliette who is allowed to be feminine and a little unhinged, violent, determined and grappling with her identity. Affectionate, softhearted Roma who is tired of his role but accepts it anyway. Sarcastic but oh so lovable Marshall who would do anything for his found family. Quiet and artsy Benedikt who wants love but is afraid to reach for it. Rosalind who is resentful and desperate for freedom and security. Resourceful and resilient Kathleen who strives for her own place and her own name. Here are characters who are not boxed into roles and instead are expressive and dynamic. Here are characters that are not meant to be instantly relatable but are allowed to evolve. Here are characters that embody the many different ways to be and offer the lens through which we can define ourselves. Gong also gives us queer representation in a genre that is not quite known for it and treats these characters and relationships with the care they deserve. Marshall may be my favorite out of all of them, but Gong’s writing makes all of their presence felt, and this is a large part of the brilliance of this duology.

The story is fast paced. Perhaps even more so than its predecessor. Keeping up requires attention. Gong manages to stay true to the structure of the original play while fleshing out her own twists. No plotline is left hanging. Very little is left up in the air. Her dedication to her creative take as well as the elements of the original is applaudable. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy. It is easy for the reader to forget this little fact as we get sucked into the action of the story. Gong, however, does not shy away. She delivers on each crucial point in the original play.

Our Violent Ends is a worthy conclusion to the gripping journey that began with These Violent Delights. It is a testament to Gong’s ability as a writer and a notable example of the potential for non-Western-centric fiction and fantasy in Young Adult and Adult books.

And if all that wasn’t enough, Chloe Gong is a Gen Z icon that slips High School Musical references into her work. What more do you need?

Foul Lady Fortune, Chloe Gong’s next book, a spin-off of this series set in the same universe, is slated to release in September 2022.

Hi! I'm Dulani and I'm double majoring in International Studies & Sociology with a minor in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at KU. I am an unapologetic introvert, pop culture nerd and the resident mom friend.
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