Genre: Historical Fantasy
Content warnings: death, violence, murder, blood, drugs, war, human experimentation
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: a murder mystery, fake marriage shenanigans, slow-burn relationships, and twists and turns that keep you on your toes
Rarely does a piece of literature get me more fired up than the These Violent Delights duology by Chloe Gong. What I thought would’ve been a run-of-the-mill forbidden love plot with doe-eyed protagonists and romanticised gang violence ended up being a grim insight into 1920s Shanghai, delivered in a bittersweet and thrilling tale of what it means to love deeply and dearly.
Needless to say, I have an enthusiasm for the series that is quite infamous within LitSoc. I gave These Violents Delights a glowing review despite its puzzling depictions of science and meandering plot. And I have fought, with great determination, any detractors who dare question the sanctity of Romajuliette – the duology’s main couple – and speak ill of either of their characters (as our LitSoc President can attest).
So when the opportunity came for me to review Foul Lady Fortune, the highly anticipated spin-off of These Violent Delights, you can only imagine how excited I was to read it before its release date.
Well, that’s not entirely true.
Earlier in the year, Chloe Gong had revealed that Rosalind Lang, a supporting character and cousin to main protagonist Juliette in These Violent Delights, would be the central character of Foul Lady Fortune. Now, I adored the core cast of These Violent Delights. But among them, Rosalind was the character I had the most conflicted feelings over. Over the course of the duology she had grown so bitter and spiteful that it angered me. Yet, with how much most of her family dismissed her, she had also earned my sympathy. But would Rosalind as a protagonist taint my enjoyment of Foul Lady Fortune? Still, reflecting on the similar scepticism I had before I started These Violent Delights, I put my biases aside and took the plunge into Foul Lady Fortune.
And I am pleased to say that Ms Gong has indeed delivered with her latest novel.
Tension and intrigue are staples of Chloe Gong’s writing, and Foul Lady Fortune carries these elements forward with refined pacing. In this new murder mystery set in 1930s China, there is rarely a dull moment as we follow along with our new core cast of characters on their adventures. The Hong siblings – the serious Oliver, the vivacious Phoebe and our flamboyant new leading male, Orion – steal the stage alongside Rosalind and returning characters Celia, Rosalind’s kind-hearted twin sister, and Alisa, the precocious younger sister of Roma, the leading male from These Violent Delights, with their conflicting yet interconnected motivations. Between them, Gong does well to expand on the previous series’ themes of loyalty, love and betrayal – this time within the conflict between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists.
Oliver and Orion in particular are incredible foils to Celia and Rosalind’s relationship as siblings. Oliver and Celia identify strongly with the Communists, while Orion and Rosalind work for the Nationalists. Both pairs of siblings, likewise, come from broken families, having strained relationships with their fathers and missing mothers. Yet, while lack of communication and distance have marred Oliver and Orion’s relationship, Celia and Rosalind take great leaps to stay in contact and trust each other with their lives.
“Do you think I would let you die? Do you think I would let you waste away in this bed of silk pretending that we have done enough? Then you think so little of me that you should renounce me as a sister this very moment. Get on your feet, and help me save you.”
It’s endearing to see Rosalind and Celia’s relationship as sisters explored in greater detail like this in Foul Lady Fortune, especially considering how their closeness was what prevented my complete distaste for Rosalind in Our Violent Ends, the sequel to These Violent Delights. It also further endears me to how Celia’s fierceness to protect her sister is reflected in Rosalind and has coloured her motivations throughout her life.
“You’re the eldest of your sisters.” / “How did you know?” / “You remind me of Oliver sometimes. The seriousness. The world on your shoulders.”
This further exploration into the facets of Rosalind’s character in Foul Lady Fortune has significantly softened my view of her, as Gong allows us to better understand her inner turmoils, including the reasoning behind her actions in Our Violent Ends.
“…Rosalind had been in a world of pain, her family’s punishment still fresh and raw, the whip marks on her back still bloody. She wanted to take it out on the world. She wanted to resent everyone she loved – just to feel something other than helplessness.”
Beneath her callousness then was a broken young woman who had been repeatedly cast aside by loved ones she’d given her whole heart and soul to. So while I remain frustrated with Rosalind and her tendency towards jealousy and anger, it does not bar me from wanting the best for her and her happiness. Especially when, in Foul Lady Fortune, her mistakes have fuelled her drive to make amends and protect those closest to her even more.
Speaking of Rosalind’s closest relationships, Foul Lady Fortune, quite literally, forces a new one into her life through her fake marriage to Orion, whose initial frivolousness and flirtations irked me as much as it does Rosalind. In fact, those who follow Miraculous Ladybug will find that Rosalind and Orion hit similar notes to Ladynoir . . . if Ladybug was hardened by the sins of her treacherous past and Cat Noir was an actual playboy. Still, while it was certainly ill-matched at first, Rosalind and Orion as a pairing, much like Ladynoir, slowly warrant endearment when it’s made clear how sincerely and deeply their feelings for each other run.
“Attached to High Tide?” she echoed, her voice teasing. “Have you grown attached to me, Hong Liwen? / “Yes.” His reply came easily. It didn’t sound like it was teasing her in return. “I have.”
I’m still partial to Juliette and Roma for their intimate past and passion-filled romance. But those who prefer a gentler, more tender flame will find Rosalind and Orion a fun and heartfelt love story to follow. And Ladynoir set in 1930s China is a relationship I look forward to seeing evolve in the next novel, which Chloe Gong so graciously teases towards the end of Foul Lady Fortune, much like she did for Our Violent Ends in These Violent Delights.
With all these elements to like about Foul Lady Fortune, my only gripe over the novel is similar to my grievances over its predecessor series: its questionable science. Admittedly, it has taken longer than I’d like for it to sink in that Chloe Gong’s novels are historical fantasy rather than just historical fiction, but reading how the virus in These Violent Delights manifested and spread, at times, confused me more than it intrigued me. Certainly, a dangerous and unknown virus has the great potential to urge further conflict and make an insightful commentary on humanity (as history and current times have shown). But a virus that defies human biology to infect its victims and turns them into eldritch monsters was a little too much to add to a plot already set in a world filled with political unrest, rival gangs and forbidden love plots.
Fortunately, in Foul Lady Fortune, the fantastical elements are made more palatable in the novel’s otherwise realistic setting. Drugs that cause death by injection are much less far-fetched than a supernatural virus, and the mystery of the killer is an intriguing trail to follow that doesn’t overshadow the plot and the interpersonal relationships between the characters. While the narrative does introduce a drug that effectively makes people immortal of all things, it at least pairs well with Rosalind’s character, whose inability to age fuels her drive to improve as a person and not run from her past.
Overall, Foul Lady Fortune takes the best elements of the These Violent Delights duology and elevates them to a higher degree. In this spin-off, Gong’s poetic writing shines through a more tightly-woven plot, dynamic cast and subtle twists that make you keep reading and wanting more. And I am exceedingly thrilled to wait for its sequel to come out. I give this novel 4.5 stars.