[A quick note: I got this edition in the December Owl Crate. I was highly anticipating this release. And isn’t it pretty? Mine has sprayed edges, which sets it apart from the other Owl Crate editions. I think it turned out gorgeous!]
“𝙒𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙩𝙬𝙚𝙚𝙣 𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙢𝙮 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙛𝙧𝙞𝙚𝙣𝙙 𝙝𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙯𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙖𝙡 𝙤𝙧 𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙩𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙡? 𝙒𝙖𝙨 𝙞𝙩 𝙖 𝙜𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙩 𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙤 𝙡𝙪𝙢𝙗𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙘𝙧𝙤𝙨𝙨 𝙤𝙧 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙞𝙩 𝙖 𝙝𝙞𝙜𝙝, 𝙝𝙞𝙜𝙝 𝙬𝙖𝙡𝙡—𝙚𝙞𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙨𝙘𝙖𝙡𝙚𝙙 𝙤𝙧 𝙠𝙞𝙘𝙠𝙚𝙙 𝙙𝙤𝙬𝙣 𝙞𝙣 𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙗𝙞𝙜 𝙗𝙡𝙤𝙬?”—Chloe Gong
Shanghai, 1926, is the setting for this Romeo and Juliette retelling. The Scarlets and White Flowers have fought each other for generations. But when a madness sweeps through the city, and whispers of a monster become more than just rumors, Roma Montagov and Juliette Cai must put aside their blood feud and work together if there’s any hope of saving the city they love.
Romeo and Juliette? Shanghai in the Roaring 20s? Violent mobsters on two opposing sides? A blood feud? What’s not to love...right? Except, this story just didn’t do it for me. I really wanted to love it, but unfortunately it fell flat. The setting was excellent. Chloe Gong put an obvious amount of effort in portraying some very real issues with a deft hand, keeping true to historical events in China during the 1920s. It’s obvious she did a significant amount of research in writing this. So...what? I appreciated the themes. I enjoyed the history. But I really did not FEEL the emotion I look for in a compelling book. Almost like too much effort was put into world building and not enough into the characters and plot. Too much work into telling me how everything was and not showing me the story and letting me live it. Perhaps it was a lack of my relating to the characters? Or a lack of excitement in the plot? Too much telling and not enough showing? It just felt a bit hum-drum. Or maybe it’s just ME? That’s possible too. This just wasn’t the book for me. But it was still a quick, entertaining read.
“𝙏𝙝𝙚 𝘾𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙚 𝙝𝙖𝙙 𝙗𝙪𝙞𝙡𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙥𝙞𝙩, 𝙜𝙖𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙬𝙤𝙤𝙙, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙡𝙞𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙖𝙩𝙘𝙝, 𝙗𝙪𝙩 𝙞𝙩 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙚𝙞𝙜𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙨 𝙬𝙝𝙤𝙝𝙖𝙙 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙥𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙚𝙙 𝙜𝙖𝙨𝙤𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙚 𝙪𝙥𝙤𝙣 𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙮 𝙨𝙪𝙧𝙛𝙖𝙘𝙚, 𝙡𝙚𝙩𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙎𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙜𝙝𝙖𝙞 𝙧𝙖𝙜𝙚 𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙤 𝙖𝙣 𝙪𝙣𝙩𝙖𝙢𝙖𝙗𝙡𝙚 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙙𝙚𝙗𝙖𝙪𝙘𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙮.”
I really appreciated Chloe Gong’s attention to detail. She portrayed Shanghai in the 1920s, addressing some very real themes, such as other countries trying to infiltrate Shanghai and take both its culture and its land. Issues like communism are addressed too, as that was sweeping China at the time. The political climate was front and center. Even Juliette herself felt like a foreigner in her own home country. All of these things made for a very real setting and enhanced the story, blending with the fictional portion of the plot, that of a monster sweeping through Shanghai, inflicting madness on its people.
Juliette was a morally gray character. She killed when necessary. Especially if it meant protecting her family. While I liked her, I didn’t love her. Same with Roma. The romance between the two of them was a lot of telling, because it was something that happened four years prior. It ended badly in betrayal, creating bad blood between Roma and Juliette. This story was their chance to work together and move forward, and perhaps rekindle what was lost. While I appreciate the attempt at failed-lovers-reconcile-and-get-back-together trope, I would have preferred a clear-cut execution of enemies-to-lovers trope instead. It would have been simpler and allowed the reader to be present for the FULL development of the romance, rather than merely being told about what they once shared in hindsight. There was enough blood feud between them that they could have started the book as enemies and progressed from there, getting to know each other so that the reader tagged along for the development. I just didn’t see the need for a full romance arc between them to be in the past when it could have all happened in the present. I wanted to be there for that. Not be told about it later. So that’s probably my biggest gripe with the story.
Overall, I think a lot of people enjoyed this one, so I think it just wan’t quite my taste. The ending definitely finished on a cliffhanger, and left some strings untied, and not necessarily in a satisfying way either. I don’t know. I’m not so sure I’ll be bothering with the second book. I enjoyed this one, but only just. MY RATING: 3/5⭐️