Publication date: November 17th 2020
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
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.
*Note: The edition I read was the UK Fairyloot edition; the ISBNs above are for the US hardcover.
This book took me ages to read, and I still have no clue why. I’d love to say it was a conscious decision to savor it, or I was just too busy—both are true in their own ways—but I found myself in a reading slump while trudging through this that was incredibly hard to break. I thought for sure I wouldn’t finish it. Feeling that way was absolutely zero to do with whether I loved the book, though.
The plot reminded me of something directly out of The X-Files, a personal favorite, so I was destined from the start to enjoy this, I think. The concept of a river monster spewing little brain-eating bugs everywhere? Gross! I loved that. It was disturbing, tragic, and downright terrifying.
As I was reading, I found myself entranced by the writing. Chloe Gong is incredibly skilled at pulling you into the story; it was crazy to learn that not only was this her debut, but that she’s several years younger than me. Not me having a crisis and wondering what I’m doing with my life because of this book. >.< LMAO, anyways. She painted a stunning picture of 1920s Shanghai, of the characters, of the fear gripping the city. The character development was so good; I was obsessed with Juliette. The story wasn’t about a bunch of good guys; it was about all the bad guys having to come together to do something good. I haven’t read a lot of books like this, and to say I’m obsessed with that kind of storytelling is an understatement.
I went in expecting the romance to be… spicier. Truthfully, it was probably the result of Instagram and TikTok so this is less a critique of the book and more of a “manage your expectations that come from social media” PSA. With that said, I felt the romance is absolutely perfect: a slow burn, enemies-to-lover trope with a pinch of spice. Chef’s kiss. ♥
Throughout the story, I had my theories about the cause of the epidemic, but I definitely got whiplash towards the end, where it twisted and turned and twisted again. With that said, I still guessed who was causing the epidemic. I usually try not to stray too far ahead in my theories, or try to guess at all, but since I took so long to read it, I found myself thinking about it a lot while not reading. I only have myself to blame… *sigh*
This was one of my favorite reads of the summer. While I wasn’t, in the end, absolutely obsessed like so many of my friends, I adored every word I read and had so much fun theorizing the outcomes. I’m glad I don’t have long to wait for the sequel (so long as Fairyloot doesn’t delay for too long…), as it comes out November 16th! The day after my birthday!