This was definitely a very loose interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, but I loved every single moment of it. It reminded me a lot of Jade City by Fonda Lee except set in 1920s Shanghai and the magical components were a tiny bit different. However, I loved it and I cannot wait for book two come out!
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.
I absolutely loved Juliette and Roma. While they were nothing like their characters in Romeo and Juliet, I loved how compassionate Roma was and how headstrong Juliette was. Their personalities clashed, but both being the heirs of their respective gangs, I can only imagine much of that is colored by the ruthless blood feud between their families.
Of course, the other characters surrounding Juliette and Roma had similar names to the characters in Romeo and Juliet, so you get an idea that maybe certain things will happen to certain people, but if you’re looking for a straightforward retelling you’ll be sorely disappointed. It’s also not a fantasy story. In fact, I would put this as a genre-bending book with historical fiction (the rise of the communist party in China is a major component to this book) with a tiny bit of mystery, science fiction, and very little romance.
But I loved it. I loved that Chloe Gong was able to take this story and make it her own. In all honestly, this is one of the best retellings up there with Legendborn by Tracy Deonn where you’re not getting an iteration of the story, but something completely different and so well imagined that you’re just blown away when it does reference the other book. It was action packed filled with suspenseful moments, skillful surprises, and just really made me excited to keep reading.
I loved that the romance between Roma and Juliette wasn’t that obvious. It was actually after their romance that the story takes place, so all that was left is the bitter rivalry of their families that seems to affect Juliette more than it did Roma. Both of them have something to prove as well. In the wings, Juliette’s cousin, Tyler, is waiting for her to make a mistake so that he can take over the business. Meanwhile, Juliette is constantly trying to prove herself worthy enough to be called a Scarlet.
Roma doesn’t feel like he’s as dedicated to his gang, The White Flowers, as much as Juliette is. In fact, he gets queasy with murdering people and doesn’t sit well with violence. But his father doesn’t really respect him as heir either and relies mostly on another person to do the dirty work. But both Roma and Juliette definitely have the best in mind for their people and want to do their best to keep the peace and also solve what’s happening.
Because there’s a weird madness going around where people are literally ripping their own throats out and it looks to mostly affect both the gangs. This was the weird science fiction part, which really blew my mind at the end. I was so grossed out by the madness the entire time and Chloe Gong has the writing chops to make things just so vivid. It was definitely the central plot of the book, but I also absolutely loved learning more about Juliette and Roma. In many ways this is how the book reminded me of Jade City. There’s a big plot happening in the city they both run, but in the meantime there’s so much to divulge about the characters and their worlds.
I absolutely loved that Chloe Gong kept a lot of details close to the chest and as you read the book, it just unfolded and really showed you what she’s capable of. I will admit it does drag a little. There were parts where I thought it would be obvious to the characters who did it and having them come to realizations and truths much faster than they did in the book, but the slow burn is very much worth it. However, I would just trust Chloe Gong and her writing ability to explain everything, show you why she wrote the book she did, and just capture you in this weird little world.
I cannot wait for book two. There’s enough at the end to make you reach for the second book for answers and I definitely want to know what happens.