So I’ve been desperately awaiting These Violent Delights since it was announced, and I was lucky enough to receive an ARC (thank you again, Simon Teen!). Please know that this book broke me, and I’m still thinking about it four months later :’). My review will be up in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime, read on for my interview with Chloe Gong, the author, for her inspirations for writing this retelling and her characters’ favorite TV show!
Perfect for fans of The Last Magician and Descendant of the Crane, this heart-stopping debut is an imaginative Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai, with rival gangs and a monster in the depths of the Huangpu River.
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
About the Book
First, describe your book in two sentences.
These Violent Delights is a Romeo & Juliet retelling set in 1926 Shanghai, about a city caught in a blood feud between two rival gangs. The teenaged heirs of those gangs—Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov—must work together when a series of mysterious deaths start to kill members on both sides, but Juliette and Roma were childhood lovers before the feud tore them apart, and they’ll have to put aside their own personal grudges before they can save their city.
These Violent Delights draws inspiration from Romeo and Juliet. What led you to write this retelling?
The decision to do a Romeo & Juliet retelling stemmed from my interest in writing about a blood feud, and how something like that would define a world and build characters who must survive in that world. The more I tried to plot, the more I kept coming back to the idea of star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of a generational conflict, and because it’s impossible to think star-crossed blood feud without thinking Shakespeare, I decided to lean right into and interrogate the original text rather than run against it!
I personally loved the atmosphere that the time period and setting create. Why did you choose to set TVD in Shanghai during the 1920s?
I adore the aesthetic of the 1920s, and I’ve always loved books that use it as a setting because of the glamor and the glitter. Still, I felt like a lot of works gloss over the political, colonial, and racial tension going on at that time, and to me, it’s impossible to separate the 1920s from its politics, no matter where in the world the characters are because it was such a time of global upheaval. Knowing that, I wanted to take on the 20s aesthetic without brushing politics and racism right under the rug, and so I chose Shanghai because it’s the location I know best given how often my parents share stories about growing up there. With even more research, I realized that Shanghai in the 1920s was ruled by gangsters in true history, and then my plot clicked into place!
Roma and Juliette are exes, which makes for even more tension. What was your thought process behind changing the original story in this way?
All for the delicious, delicious tension. The original Romeo & Juliet, of course, are notorious for their insta-love, which I adore for what it is. Still, when I was drawing up These Violent Delights, I knew I wanted Roma and Juliette’s romance to bounce back and forth between enemies and lovers as a way of examining what it means to love in a city of hate and what it means to defy what you’ve learnt and make sacrifices of your own choosing. Because the novel opens when Juliette is 18 and Roma is 19, we’ve already skipped past the prime of their teenage years. I wanted that little touch of history, the layer of being young and feeling like you can conquer anything so long as you try, hence the exes backstory to deepen that part of their romance and compare it against the present after the both of them have become jaded.
What was your publishing path like?
I always say that I jumped into publishing really fast, but I had been doing the run-up for that jump for a really long time. I started writing when I started high school, and I would basically pump out an original manuscript every year for no reason other than because I could and because I was bored. I’m from New Zealand, so the idea of getting published legitimately never occurred to me because I thought only Americans could enter the U.S. publishing market, and I only ever saw American publishing houses on the shelves in the library. As I got older and applied to the U.S. for colleges, I suddenly realized one day that… well, actually nothing was stopping me from getting published in the States, and now I was going there anyway. When I wrote These Violent Delights the summer after freshman year, I decided to start querying agents. I was signed in a month, we went on submission to editors at the start of my sophomore year of college, and four months later, These Violent Delights sold at auction. So while the actual publishing industry side of things happened fast, my craft needed to have been steadily building over the years to get to that point!
How do you juggle writing / being a published author with being a college student?
A lot of planning! My life is composed of to-do lists after to-do lists, making sure I’m not losing track of any due dates both in publishing deadlines and assignment deadlines. A lot of it is also reordering my priorities, making sure I’m weighing up my college time with my professional time so I’m not neglecting one for the other. I would be wasting college if I just stayed inside to write all day, but I also need to know when to say no to plans (well, in the pre-COVID days) because I have writing to do.
About the Author
What were some formative YA novels for you growing up?
SO MANY. But the ones that shaped my personality the most were:
- The Mortal Instruments – Cassandra Clare
- Divergent – Veronica Roth
- Vampire Academy – Richelle Mead
- Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor
- The Darkest Powers – Kelley Armstrong
What other Shakespeare plays would you like to retell?
This is a hard question to answer because I plan to keep retelling Shakespeare plays in later books so I also don’t want to be giving spoilers LOL. I’ll say that the one not currently attached to any plans is Antony & Cleopatra, because it’s my favorite play after Romeo & Juliet, and it’s the opposite spectrum of R&J’s sweet love, interrogating questions of power and destruction instead.
What are some of your favorite 2020 debuts?
I read an ARC of Shannon Takaoka’s Everything I Thought I Knew and it destroyed me. It’s so good, definitely an all-time top favorite. I’ve also loved June Hur’s The Silence of Bones and Kristin Lambert’s The Boy In The Red Dress.
What about any other releases this year?
I re-read S.J Kincaid’s The Diabolic and then read its sequel The Empress and *lies down*. This series blows me away, I need more people to read it. I also lost my mind over Cassandra Clare’s Chain of Gold. You can take the girl out of the Shadowhunter fandom but you can’t take the Shadowhunter fandom out of the girl.
Describe your characters in three words!
Violent, Delightful, …These (I’m so sorry, I had to)
What would be your characters’ favorite TV series?
I kept thinking about this and the only one coming to mind is Teen Wolf, so I’m going to say Teen Wolf.
Which other YA characters would your characters get along with?
Hesina from Descendant of the Crane and Evie + Sam from The Diviners.
What’s your favorite trope to read?
Either enemies-to-lovers or fake married couple.
What was the last book you read?
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson.
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.