I feel like I’ve been coming out with so many book reviews recently. I promise, next week there will be no book reviews. Anyways, I wasn’t planning to review this book, but I had a lot of thoughts about it, so here we go.
Release: Nov. 2020
Page Count: 449
Synopsis: Set in 1920s Shanghai, Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov have lived their lives under the careful watch of their families, the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, both powerful gangs seeking control in Shanghai. However, something is brewing below the waters of the Huangpo river. A monster is coming, and people are dying. Juliette and Roma, once lovers now enemies, must struggle against the dangerous politics of Shanghai to save their city from a new, terrifying threat while navigating the dangerous water of power.
I really enjoyed this book, which is surprising because usually I’m very critical of Shakespeare retellings. It is a slow burn, focused mostly on the political conflict in Shanghai between different gangs, foreigners, Nationalists, and Communists. I have read several books on Shanghai during this era, and this book perfectly captures the intricacies of that time and place. Saying that, sometimes the flowery writing did bog down the writing a bit, but never enough for me to start disliking the book. I was a huge fan of the characters, even if Roma and Juliette were really the only characters who were highly developed. The background characters, though simple, were interesting. I enjoyed the friendship between Roma and his two friends. For the most part I enjoyed the romance between Juliette and Roma, though there were points I was frustrated by their lack of communication. Literally 90% of the issues they had outside of their family was because of misunderstandings. The mystery was perhaps the hardest to read, as it was pretty gross at times. However, the book is a truly enjoyable read, and I look forward to reading the next book!
Let’s break down a lot of my thoughts for this book now.
The world of Shanghai is very well done. We see many different parts of the city, such as the French Quarter with its snobbish French and the opium pens filled with addiction. The main perspective is Juliette’s, even if we follow Roma in some scenes as well (as well as a few secondary characters), and I adored seeing her move through different societies so easily. She would go to clubs, to the International District, to poor shops. Through her eyes we were shown the lush world of 1920s Shanghai, and I loved it!
Juliette is like a branch between many cultures. She is Chinese, of course, but spent the last four years in America. She speaks English, Shanghainese, and Russian (I think she might speak some French too, but I can’t remember how fluently). Because she is part of a powerful gang family who few will mess with, she has this ability to travel to places an average Chinese girl could not. She is nothing like the Juliet in Shakespeare’s original, but I still enjoyed her highly flawed but strong character. She is fragile but also determined. She is stuck in this world where power is everything, and decides to play games as a way to survive and protect those she cares about. On a moral standpoint I don’t always agree with her decisions, but I can understand them.
Roma is also an interesting character, though the focus is slightly less on him. Like Juliette, he focuses on protecting his family. However, he has much less fear about seeking Juliette’s help to solve the strange mystery gripping the city. He is loyal to his friends, and it tears him apart that he betrayed Juliette partially so many years ago (we learn about their past together as the story continues, and I won’t get into it because of spoilers). If his name didn’t give it away, his family is Russian, while Juliette’s is Chinese. He is trying to earn back his father’s trust while also trying to make sure no one he cares about gets hurt, including Juliette. It’s definitely a fine line to walk for both of them.
The other characters fall into neater boxes. Juliette’s cousin Tyler (Tybalt in the original) is hot-headed and bloodthirsty. Roma’s friend Marshal (Mercutio in original) is loyal and intelligent, breaking up fights. Rosaline is Juliette’s cousin, a singer at a club who conflicts with her sister Kathleen, who works undercover for Juliette. Juliette’s parents are mostly good, though at times harsh. Roma’s father is cold and cruel. All the characters fit into pretty neat boxes, but because they are not the focus of the book, I didn’t mind it. I could at least all get a sense of who they were as people.
Usually, I’m not a big fan of flowery language, but I didn’t hate it in this book. Maybe it’s because I’m such a big fan of Shanghai, but I felt like the flowery language usually focused on describing the city in vivid detail. The language was not usually used to elaborate too much on character emotions, which is usually the type of flowery language I feel is unneeded (I can be shown character is angry without spending two paragraphs describing it). Saying that, there were small moments the flowery language got carried away, but these were rare moments.
Finally, the mystery/plot. I can’t talk too much about it because it’s mostly spoilers, but I really enjoyed the mystery, even if it was quite slow until the end. I personally believe the focus of the book was on different conflicts between characters and the mystery with the monster one just one of those conflicts.
But that ending! Without giving away spoilers, there is a twist ending. When I read it, I was shocked by the abrupt ending until I realized that there is a second book. It’s supposed to come out next year. For some reason, I thought this was a stand-alone, but I look forward to reading the second book.
Also, I was astonished that this is the debut novel of Chloe Gong! This really surprised me, as the writing is so sophisticated and I personally find debut novels to usually not be the author’s best (there are exceptions, just take To Kill a Mockingbird). But this was such a strong debut novel!
I ended up giving this 4 stars. While I do see issues with the book, my enjoyment level was high enough that I simply couldn’t give it a lower rating.
Have you heard of this book? Does it look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventures,