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BookTok worth it or not: ‘These Violent Delights’

Folks, I told you I would be back with another review and here I am fulfilling that promise. Here’s my deal for those of you who are new in town. I am Victoria. I like to read. It’s actually sometimes a problem. But not for the paper it’s not because it supplies us with content. Anyway, I also have an obsession with Instagram Reels—which is TikTok two weeks late—and from there I write down the books I would like to read depending on how they are received by the majority of BookTokers. This week I am reviewing one of the most praised books on BookTok: “These Violent Delights” and its sequel “Our Violent Ends” by Chloe Gong. Strap in, folks, because this is going to be one whirlwind of a review. 

 

This duet of books is a retelling of “Romeo and Juliet,” with our two leads Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov. The story is set in 1920s Shanghai as rival gangs fight to maintain their territory. But the two gangs have to join forces when a great outside force threatens to overtake both gangs. Despite their differences, Juliette and Roma must work together to try and stop the madness that is spreading. But the two are star-crossed lovers who had scorned each other before because of their feelings. So they must work past their history in order to save the lives of the people they love.  

 

I’m going to start with the second book because I’m not typically a fan of duets. But I have to say “Our Violent Ends” was pretty good as far as sequels go. If it’s a two-book series—like this one—I am USUALLY in favor of there only being one book. For one it’s because it means more money that you have to pay to finish the story. My second argument against duologies is that typically the plot is prolonged when it shouldn’t have been. At least with trilogies or books that span over five or six novels there is usually a reason for the length. To prove my point, there is the “Dance of Thieves” duet by Mary E. Pearson. I’ve said it before I will say it again, I wholeheartedly believe that should’ve just been one book and I don’t care how pretty the covers are. But I have to say I think Gong made the right call in making this story into two books. Gong makes the plot complex so you can understand the full depth of the gang rivalry and why they be beefing. It is some seriously great world building, I’ve got to hand it to her. She also ends the first novel with a good cliffhanger, not one of those pointless ones that ends up being irrelevant in the second book. It keeps this cohesive narrative despite being separated into two parts. 

It was a little difficult to get into “These Violent Delights” and I think part of the reason why I hung on and kept reading is because I knew it was a Romeo and Juliet retelling. So I kinda knew the trope I was gonna get if I just powered through the beginning part that was more expositionary. I had a similar problem when I tried reading “Six of Crows” which everyone said I would love and I didn’t finish it (DNF) twice (DNF in the book world means “did not finish,” as the cool kids use the lingo on BookTok). I would compare Gong’s duet to the “We Hunt the Flame” duology by Hafsah Faizal, which I absolutely adored.

 

But the writing in Gong’s work—it was just beautiful. I don’t think I fully understood or appreciated beautiful writing until I was in college because it’s just so powerful. The story doesn’t revolve around the plot, it revolves around the words. Gong weaves them in such a way that is more nuanced that makes even certain standalone quotes beautiful. 

 

Now, did this book leave me emotionally crushed and reeling? Yes. Was I in a book drought for days after? Yes. Was I emotionally okay at all? Absolutely not and I would do it again. Now after reading the ending, I did have to take to some book review websites so I could get other people’s opinions as well. I needed to know if other people also felt as crushed as I did because I needed that support at 1 a.m. the day before New Year’s Eve. Taking time to process the ending, I do think it was kind of beautiful, even though a lot of the reviews are mad about it. We are now entering spoiler territory and I feel as though you should continue at your own risk. You see, Roma and Juliette were given the opportunity to leave, they could have left and let their home burn because of the blood feud. They were so close to their own happily ever after, after their families had forsaken them because of their love. But instead they decide to stay and fight. Even though they knew their chances of survival were slim, they knew by going to fight it would give others the chance at hope for a better tomorrow. So yes, they got the bad guy in the end, but they didn’t get their own happily ever after. But because of their sacrifice people dropped the blood feud. The madness ended and the people they cared for were safe. It was because of their love that other people could love and be safe without the barriers they faced. It’s such a painful ending because you know they died to give people a chance at something they never had—peace. Now Gong makes a point to write that their bodies were never found and the epilogue is from the point of view of another character who thinks she sees them passing by. However, Gong doesn’t have the character go to confirm if it is them or not because she wants the hope that they are alive. So in her head she can hope that the two of them are somewhere, together living the life they had dreamed of. 

 

Normally I don’t like open endings like this. I am a firm believer in that the author should either choose that they died or that they’re alive. However, I am making an exception for this series because I think it is perfect for this book. You spend two whole novels with characters who are struggling with the hope of loving one another. Hope is one of Gong’s central themes and its importance is clear throughout the narrative. Juliette and Roma are two characters who are so stubborn and unwilling to let the other go that they continue to hope even when it seems pointless. So the way I see it, is even if the couple spotted in the epilogue isn’t Roma and Juliette, you know that couple is together because of what they sacrificed. Is this making sense? It’s beautifuland a bit of a cop out, but beautiful still. 

I choose to believe they are dead, not because I am a heartless monster, but because sometimes in life the happy ending still involves some sadness. At the end of the novel you are left with hope. It’s the hope that they could be together that gets me and I think that is such a smart way to end a book. (Though it should be noted on their Wiki character pages they are listed as living so do with that information what you will.)

 

Not very many book’s endings stick to me like that. The end of “Legend” by Marie Lu messed me up and so did her book “The Midnight Star.” I think the sequel to “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo has the potential to get on this list but I think it is very difficult to achieve, because nine times out of 10 I want the main characters together at the end of the story. And when they aren’t together (cough cough “Divergent”) I get really upset. While I’m upset with the way these books keep the main characters from a happy ending there is also this sort of contentment that you find in how their ripples are felt by those left in the story. Because it’s not death in narratives that makes me upset, it’s what happens to those who are still living. Death (in most cultures) if you are a good human being is not something to fear. Death is natural and not bad innately. But living after someone you loved passed that’s just—oof that’s painful all the way around. Then when both characters die it’s just sad because they never got to experience this life together, the one they worked and wanted to have. That’s what I think the wonderful thing about books is—they teach you that not every ending is going to be happy no matter how much you want it. There are some things that we have to feel even if we wish it would go differently.

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