All posts by Felix Chen

These Violent Delights (Review by Sriya B. ’22 )

These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights, #1)These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

TW: gun violence (major), gore (major), transphobia (moderate), racism/xenophobia (minor).
I picked this book up because someone told me it was a Romeo and Juliet retelling, but they didn’t tell me it was a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s crime-run Shanghai about star-crossed ex-lovers putting aside the blood feud between their gangs to prevent a monster from terrorizing their city.

Between the ruthless gangs, the rekindling of first love, and the dramatic ploys of various nationalities trying to gain control of Shanghai, this story delivers on so many fronts.

I can definitely see how this follows Romeo and Juliet, but at the same time, it feels entirely different. It’s the perfect kind of retelling, with the right balance of new and original. Chloe Gong successfully took a beloved classic and retold it with new culture, queer representation, and modern themes surrounding misogyny and racism, while also staying true to the core themes about love, loyalty, and betrayal.

The writing, while slow and long-winded in some areas (I might have lightly skimmed here and there), has beautiful descriptions and quotes you’ll want to write down and remember forever. As someone who has been reading a lot of YA romance lately, coming back into fantasy was a bit of a shock, but the way Chloe Gong navigated the multiple POVs and plot without confusing me was amazing. Of course, this way of ornate telling might not be your cup of tea, but I recommend you give it a try anyway! Oh, and the ending had me running to the library to get the sequel.—Review by Sriya B. ’22

If you like this book, Sriya also recommends The Gilded Wolves and An Ember in the Ashes.

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Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Review by James B. ’24)

Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

TW for the book: Drug Overdose, Murder, Sexual Assault

As Leigh Bardugo’s debut into Adult Fantasy, Ninth House is a stunning dark thriller that takes place on the modern day Yale campus. Be aware that this book may make you question your college apps however, as there is much murder and magic afoot.

The book follows Galaxy (Alex) Stern, a freshman with an unusual ability, through various timelines as she attempts to piece together the details of an oddly familiar murder and figure out how it relates to her mentor’s disappearance. You see, Alex is by no means qualified to study at Yale, but has rather been enlisted by a governing body that oversees the activities of the university’s ancient secret societies. It is through her ability to see ghosts, called Greys in the book, that Alex is recruited as Lethe House’s new Dante, serving under the previous Dante, now Virgil, Daniel Arlington. From a hospital bed after being found overdosed on the scene of a brutal killing, to controlling the magical powers of several groups of entitled rich kids at one of the most prestigious schools in the country, Alex Stern must fight for her life and the promise of a better future.

For the record, I wanted to like this book so badly, and even having finished it I still want to. The world-building is incredible and Leigh Bardugo once again proves that somehow she can still create new magic systems as well as lovable morally-grey characters. Alex Stern had potential to be among my favorite characters I’ve read in fantasy; she’s dynamic, persistent, and brutal while also remaining very human (ever when she is very much not). This book had all the makings to be a favorite and somehow it all just fell flat.

I am by no means a slow reader, but Ninth House took me months to conquer. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of hard-hitting action, but the back and forth between timelines quickly became dizzying. I found myself frustrated that another segment had gone by without answering my biggest questions, and even once they were answered, it didn’t feel satisfying. One of my biggest red flags for a book is whether it makes me question if I, the reader, am reading it incorrectly somehow. Too often I felt I was slipping off the hook, like the line itself was too taut for me to think about anything else.

Having said that, there are some truly gorgeous scenes in this book that stand extremely well on their own, and I think it is worth reading if you have the patience for a lot of unanswered questions. Just be sure to prepare yourself as Ninth House does explore some intense topics that might be upsetting, and that I was frankly unprepared for. —Review by James B. ’24

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The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (Review by James B. ’24)

The House in the Cerulean SeaThe House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

T.J. Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea is a comforting tale of an orphanage for magical children, although it isn’t an orphanage because no one goes there to adopt. What initially appears to be a light-hearted criticism of the corporate machine becomes a bright story of found family and finding your place in a world who would very much not like you around.

Most remarkable about the book is the ease with which it builds the world around the story. From only the first few pages you already know that this is a world in which magical creatures are not uncommon, but oppressed. Magical children are abandoned in “orphanages” overseen by a corporate giant. Our protagonist is Linus Baker, a caseworker at DICOMY given a top secret case by the Extremely Upper Management. It is on this case that Linus meets Arthur Parnassus, the Headmaster of an orphanage housing the six-year-old anti-christ, Lucy. It is this boy as well as many others that, despite the fact that they aren’t human, teach Linus about humanity.

I very much enjoyed this book, although I was under the incorrect pretense that it was a Queer romance first and adventure second. The romance is there, but it is far overshadowed by the odd but lovable found-family and delve into everyday oppression. Each child earns their own heart-warming spotlight, and as V. E. Schwab’s testimony on the cover says, it is indeed like being wrapped in a big gay blanket.

I don’t have any specific complaints about the book, as I’m aware that I went into it with the wrong idea of what it would be, so keep in mind that while there are elements of romance, I would not call it a romance. Either way, it’s a very fun title to add to your shelf and the characters are extremely well-done. Even though I found it underwhelming, I will be reading more T. J. Klune in the future because I fell in love with his style. —Review by James B. ’24

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