Verdict: Probably a better read for everyone else than it was for me. My experience was somewhat dull, but I have no doubt this will be a hit with most other readers if they think they would like it!
For a glimpse into 1920s Shanghai, for a historical fantasy gangster story (not a common combo I think), for flavors of Romeo & Juliet but ultimately its own standing story
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery. A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal. But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
Look, I know. This book has everything. Shanghai in 1920s, one of my favorite place-time combos. A basis in Shakespeare. A fantasy element of monsters. A touch of brutality and gore to darken the story.
So why didn’t I love it???
I’m a bit baffled, honestly. I’ve tried to pinpoint what kept me from falling in love with this book, as I should have by all rights. I think my issue was partly that I wasn’t expecting it to be intertwined with magic and I wasn’t really in the mood for that — and obviously that’s a personal issue, nothing with the book. But the bigger issue I faced was that I just didn’t really care about either of the main characters.
Poor communication is at the crux of both of Juliette and Roma’s issues, which is a common trope but still one that immediately turns me off. Their relationship and history together was predictable — and not just because it’s based on Romeo and Juliet. The forbidden longing aspect was weak because of it, so that had no pull on me. Also a note that this is really more of a mystery story than a romance. The rest of their character – the powerful heir who doesn’t want the job – was meh.
Give me more Marshall and Benedikt any day though! I adore them.
Besides that this story shines in it’s world building and portrayal of Shanhai at the time. It was truly a wild place, and not in entirely good ways. The chaos of competing powers between gangs, countries, and even government systems is captured exquisitely within. I could imagine every scene in the city so vividly, and that was what I loved most. The contrasts of the city were perfect.
Now if you’re curious how much this really pulls from Romeo and Juliet, the answer is minimally. There are a few key elements to the original story that are reflected in here, but overall it is uniquely its own. To come in expecting a straight retelling is woefully misguided. This is a fresh new story; it just happens to throw some nods to relationships and plot points from the OG R&J.
So if you read the blurb of this book and think “hey I’ll probably like that” then you probably will. This book has tons of action blended well with introspection and interpersonal development. My issues are mostly my own, and my “it was okay” rating (as always) reflects my own experience and not the objective quality of the book.