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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