Our Violent Ends Puts the ‘Fun’ in ‘Funeral’


In the explosive follow-up to her debut novel These Violent Delights, Chloe Gong transports readers back to the darkly lavish world of 1920s Shanghai. The long-awaited sequel is rife with brooding, blood, betrayal, and beaded dresses. Old wounds have been opened anew, the city is being torn apart from the inside out, and nothing is as it seems. Amid a tense political scene, conspiracies and blackmail threaten to tip the scales irreversibly: the Scarlets and the White Flowers alike are becoming powerless in a city that once bent to their whims. In the midst of the chaos, Roma Montagov is set on revenge after being double-crossed, and Juliette Cai must play the part of the cold and merciless killer. The slow burn romance ups the tension, or rather, it would up the tension if it weren’t blatantly obvious that they would end up together. And another thing; this book is jam packed with classic enemies to lovers tropes, and it’s not subtle. If you can think of a trope, it’s in this book. Then again, tropes are tropes because they tend to work. Treading the knife’s-edge between love and hate leads to many opportunities for such things.

While Roma and Juliette’s romance is a compelling part of the novel,  in essence, the story is a love letter to Shanghai. The ever-shifting layers of the dazzling city are full of complexity and intrigue, and as the shadows fall away, more stories come into view. Kathleen grapples with the question of who she really is. Benedikt struggles with unrelenting grief and anger. Marshall learns to be invisible. Alisa watches and sees all. The city is at the heart of the novel, because however rotten it may be, it is these characters’ home, and they are willing to live and die for it. 

Some of the book’s best moments are the ones where the story aligns with the original play, with a twist (usually the twist is that Juliette has a gun). Gong honors and enhances the source material while staying true to her own story and characters. At the same time, some of Gong’s completely original story elements, like the character of  Kathleen, are high points. The only place where this book starts to fall apart is the tension. There’s plenty of every variety, but some of it just feels contrived. The twist at the end of the previous book left Juliette with a secret—one that, for the sake of keeping up appearances, she apparently cannot tell Roma. It’s drawn out far too long in this book, to the point where it feels like a crutch to keep the slow burn extra slow. 

Alisa, Roma’s younger sister, is the unexpected hidden gem of this book. While in the first installment, she was merely used as leverage, she now has meaningful thoughts in addition to being used as leverage. Her point of view is poignant and refreshing, and sometimes a little heartbreaking in contrast to the jaded outlook of other characters. She puts the skewed nature of the world into perspective. If I ever thought this book wouldn’t make me cry, I hadn’t taken Alisa Montagova and all her ill-fated hope into account. 

As a conclusion, this book certainly lives up to its name. Gong loves to remind us that everything has a breaking point. Cities, gangs, families, and love affairs are all the same—when enough pressure builds up within them, all hell breaks loose. Yet even after they fall, something remains to rise from the ashes. Their broken legacies are carried out by the broken people who get left behind. 

Even upon first read, Our Violent Ends  has a feeling of familiarity to it. However, Gong’s consistent subversion of the source material keeps the story fresh and exciting. Through her masterfully crafted characters and worldbuilding, Gong weaves a tale that truly ignites something in the hearts of readers. It is not perfect, but it does justice to Shakespeare’s work in its own way. Even after the book has been discarded, the story echoes on the consciousness like an unhinged firecracker.