2021’s Our Violent Ends is the second and final volume in Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights duology.
To paraphrase the Bard:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Shanghai, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers (…)
The two households in question are the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, the two gangs that hold Shanghai in their grip. The two star-cross’d loves are the Scarlet Gang’s Juliette Cai and the White Flower’s Roma Montagov, both as smitten with each other as they are high in the councils of their respective families’ gangs.
When last we saw our leads, their rekindled love affair hit a minor road bump. As far as Roma knows, Juliette murdered the White Flower’s Marshall Seo in cold blood. Outraged, his love turns to hate. Now Roma is determined to kill Juliette as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
At least, that’s what he tells himself.
Unbeknownst to Roma, Marshall is not dead, but simply sequestered in a safe house by Juliette for reasons that seemed compelling at the time. Juliette bitterly regrets the romantic breach this ruse caused, but she cannot explain to Roma what she did or why she did it. All she can do is play the part of a skilled Scarlet Gang assassin until such time as Roma gets the drop on her, at which point she will let him kill her.
In the previous book, the monster of Shanghai terrorized Shanghai with his lethal insects. The monster is dead. However, their final command to an unnamed minion was to release their remaining insects. That minion rejected this potentially apocalyptic order. Instead, they are blackmailing the city’s gangs—as a close to a municipal government as Shanghai has—until such time as it amuses them to do otherwise.
This situation is a menace to Shanghai and its gangs. It is just the pretext to force the gangs to work together. Who better to represent the two sides in the quest to track down the new monster of Shanghai than such highly placed members as Roma and Juliette? Thus the pair find themselves reluctantly paired once more.
External reality intrudes. The Kuomintang is determined to unify all strife-torn China under its rule, Shanghai included. To this end, the KMT grudgingly formed a unified front with the Communists. Now General Chiang Kai-shek’s faction of KMT believes the time has come to rid themselves of their Communist allies. On April 12, 1927, the KMT and their allies will massacre Shanghai’s Communists and their allies.
The Scarlet Gang is allied to the KMT, the White Flowers to the Communists. Bad news for the rekindled affair between Juliette and Roma.
There are too many confrontations in this book that should have ended with the death of either Juliette or Roma. Yeah, they’re secretly in love with each other, but you’d think if they didn’t want to pull the trigger, they’d get better at not being in the same room with each other.
Readers waiting for heroic Westerners to step and save the day should look elsewhere. For some reason, the people responsible for China’s Century of Humiliation, the folks who carved out a chunk of Shanghai for their own use, do not come across as entirely sympathetic or benevolent. It’s a puzzler.
Although the author’s inspiration is Romeo and Juliet , forget the bit in R&J about
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
Neither the Scarlet Gang nor the White Flowers are sentimental. No doomed romance or romantic suicides could possibly end the strife between the two gangs or deter them from pursuing their goal of being the only gang in Shanghai.
Although the protagonists can only speculate about what is to come, the gang clashes and the struggle between the KMT and Chinese Communist Party are just an appetizer for the main course of the Second Sino-Japanese War and the civil war that followed. Shanghai will be supplied with an excess of history, at the cost of thousands of lives. Even if they were not on either side of a gang war, even if the city didn’t have that monster problem, Juliette and Roma have picked an unfortunate location for their star-crossed romance.
Who doesn’t love a star-crossed gangster epic tragedy set in the run-up to an apocalyptic world war? Or a second volume in a duology that does not call for a third volume? Although there is lots of room for stories about other characters in the novel….
Our Violent Ends provides a satisfactory resolution to Juliette and Roma’s story, which while it does not go quite as well for the pair as they could have hoped, certainly goes better than it might have.