In Our Violent Ends Chloe Gong wraps up her Romeo and Juliet homage set in slightly fantasy version of 1920s Shanghai, begun in These Violent Delights. And without providing any spoilers, anyone expecting a completely happy ending when the source material is a Shakespearean tragedy just doesn’t know their Shakespeare.
Our Violent Ends opens soon after the events that ended These Violent Delights. Although it seemed that the madness-inducing monster had been vanquished it turns out that someone still has the formula to create more and is blackmailing both the Scarlet and White Flower crime families. Roma blames Juliette for the death of his best friend Marshall Seo but readers will know that this is not exactly the case and that Seo is still alive. Roma and Juliette clearly still have feelings for each other but when the book opens are both completely enmeshed back in their families’ blood feud. But they are once again forced to work together to try and identify the blackmailer. At the same time, tension is rising in the city between the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists.
While the first book hinged on the actions and impacts of a madness inducing monster, Our Violent Ends is much more grounded (although no less violent). The monsters are back but under tight control and used sparingly as a tool to fuel the growing tension in the city. The largest set piece in the book is centred around the very real massacre of Communist forces and their supporters by the Nationalists aided by local gangsters (in reality called the Green Gang) that took place in April 1927. And while monsters do play a small part in this fictional retelling of that story, the real monsters turn out to be the power hungry leaders of the various factions.
Once again, while Gong references characters, events (even a fake suicide at one point) and the occasional quote from Romeo and Juliet, this is not the Shakespeare play. Juliette Cai, in particular, continues to be a kick-arse, take no prisoners heroine. She is concerned about the direction that her family in going in, a position that quickly puts her at odds with her father, even before her attraction to Roma Montagov is factored in. This volume also gives more depth and action to some of the side characters – particularly Juliette’s companions the sisters Kathleen and Rosalind, and Roma’s offsider Benedikt. And knowing that there is going to be some tragedy coming for at least some of those characters makes for a tense, page-turning read.
Through the two books Gong delivers a rich and deep view of 1920s Shanghai, from the wealthiest areas in the Foreign Concessions, to the markets and factories. And through an only slightly fantastical lens, is also able to explore and reveal some of that city’s bloody and violent history. And while she leaves a few threads dangling, as is only right in a complex narrative, in Our Violent Ends Gong brings her two volume story to a satisfyingly tragic conclusion.
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