I don’t usually read book blurbs. If I know and like the author, I read the book. If it’s a series, I scan the blurb enough to know which character it’s about (sometimes) and read the book. If it’s a recommendation, once the right keywords are dropped, I read the book.
So going into These Violent Delights, I knew 1) it’s YA, which was not a selling point, just a fact I knew, 2) it’s a Romeo and Juliet plot, which has the potential to get a really crazy setting, 3) it takes place in 1920’s Shanghai, which is absolutely that crazy setting in the best way possible, and 4) the ‘Romeo’ has the Eastern European name Roma.
I knew that last fact because at least one person was outraged that he had a girl’s name. While Roma does happen to be the name of a Hindu goddess, it is not a girl’s name. For me, in fact, it’s the name of a tomato, the probably Latinized version of Rome, and a shortened form of Romani. Like, the gypsies. But I also accept it as a name because I recognize the fact that other cultures have different names. I pretty much never call out a name unless it’s a very American but laughable name.
I mention all this for one reason that has nothing to do with anything except 3) it takes place in the 1920’s. But in the prologue there are neon lights and quite possibly a Cthulu. I was confused. And that’s okay. Again, I actually knew almost nothing about the book at this point.
As it turns out, a) I’m an idiot. Neon lights absolutely existed in the 1920’s. I’m, like, trying to come up with some time traveler scenario explaining how the events occurring under the neon lights affected the characters in the 1920’s, but it’s totally just the 1920’s. Nothing weird there. b) Cthulu (who isn’t actually Cthulu, obviously) is mentioned in the blurb, but in an odd way. Looking back on that blurb now that I’ve read These Violent Delights, I don’t think I would have taken its references to the ‘monster’ so literally.
So that’s my one warning for this book. The monster isn’t a metaphor. It’s an actual monster.
One of two warnings. The second one is for anyone reading this who is used to my strictly romance reviews: this is a cliffhanger. A second book is coming out. There’s no release date, but it’s expected in 2021. So if you absolutely cannot handle cliffhangers, wait until then.
So it’s 1920’s Shanghai and there’s a monster. Despite those elements, which are very well done, the most interesting part of this book to me is the way the Romeo and Juliet aspect is woven into the story. Some of it is obtuse, most notably their names. Roma Montagav and Juliette Cai. There’s a Rosalind. Mercutio and Benvolio are Marshall and Benedikt. Paris is Paul, and that better be some fan service for Paul Rudd’s portrayal of Paris in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I’m not a big fan of this (well, except Paul Rudd) but it’s a small thing, and author’s choice.
But then she also does this thing where the story goes completely cockeyed. It’s definitely still Romeo and Juliet, but they’re not the young teens; they’re both nearing 20. But that young teen romance happened. It ended tragically, but not in the way it did in Shakespeare’s original (obviously lol no zombie teen romance here). This is them coming back together having already harmed each other, seemingly irreparably.
Also, some of the landmark scenes, like the masquerade and balcony scenes, occur, but in a totally different way. I’m not a spoiler, I’m not going to give details out, but I was all for the way she recycled these scenes into something that had an almost inverted feel from their original purposes.
As I mentioned before, the book ends on a cliffhanger. Yet again, it is a scene that is so reminiscent of the original but warped enough to leave the reader wondering how this will weave back into Romeo and Juliet, if it does at all. The way the book is staged, I see no way the entire story could end in anything but the full tragedy of the original, but the way this book ended makes me question if that’s still the author’s end game.
Also, there was some really nice LGBT+ representation in this. Since I’m primarily a romance writer–as well as part of the LGBT+ community–it was a refreshing and well-portrayed change.
Yes, I’ll be reading the sequel when it comes out. I have to know how this ends. Yes, I recommend you read it. But if you hate cliffhangers, wait until the sequel’s release date is at least announced.