These Violent Delights

THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS
Chloe Gong
Hachette

REVIEWED BY PETER STUPPLES

Shanghai, 1926. A scaly sea monster emerges from the Huangpu River in the bustling port, roams the streets, firing many-legged mini-monsters, seemingly at random, at anyone on the streets, before slithering into the water. down jetty steps. The mini-monsters attach themselves to human victims, penetrating their scalp, sending their hosts crazy so that they tear at their own throats, rupturing arteries, spilling blood, falling on the streets and narrow alleyways in the agony of their violent death throws.

There are many other sources of violence in Shanghai in the mid-1920s: Kuomintang forces are at war with Communist activists, Foreign Concessionaires compete with one another for trade monopolies, and two Chinese criminal gangs vie for dominance of protection rackets and the opium trade - the White Flowers, controlled by a White Russian family, the Montagovs (think Montagues), and the Scarlet Gang run by the local Chinese Cai family (think Capulets).

Roma is the Montagov heir and Juliette heir to the Cais. They are now young adults, but had a romantic attachment in their mid-teens, shattered when their loyalties were tested in inter-gang warfare. Juliette was sent to the United States for further education to keep her away from the bitterness engendered by the feud. She has now returned. Hardened, tough, angry. Roma keeps his distance.

The gangs are frustrated and angered that the appearance of the monster has weakened their dominance of the port. Juliette and Roma are separately charged by their respective gangs to find out who is running the monster and trading in the vaccine that guarantees immunity from the mini-monster bites. This task brings Juliette and Roma together in spite of their historical animosity.

As the novel progresses the tension increases as the multiple sources of discord, from different commercial and political perspectives, seek to control the city. The writing here is fast, furious, exciting.

Chloe Gong is 21. She was born in Shanghai, but came with her parents to Auckland at the age of 2. She attended Rangitoto College and is now studying at the University of Pennsylvania.

She wrote this YA novel at just 19, landed a publishing contract and is now enjoying a high spot on the New York Times Bestseller list. She has a sequel soon to be published and is now toying with ideas for a third novel.

These Violent Delights aims at Generation Z readers. Those looking for its roots in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet will find a few plot and character parallels, as well as the source of the title.

However, this is also a political novel written from a Chinese point of view. Shanghai was subject to commercial colonialism at its most rapine. The Cais are fighting for Chinese control of their own city. Who might serve those interests best - Kuomintang or Communists?

But clear-sighted political choices are not available when such chaos exists between the factions. Shanghai had become the monster that tears at everyone’s throats.

Does Generation Z find our world riven in the same way? Is there room for old fashioned romance as the world falls apart? It is refreshing to see that world through fresh eyes and minds - after all, it is only the young who can save us.

Peter Stupples, now living in Wellington, used to teach at the University of Otago

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