The premise for this book is so freaking cool. It’s set in 1920s Shanghai following the Opium War and communist revolution in China. Everything is in upheaval. Basically there are a bunch of Western powers vying for control and even the local Chinese population is split between the loyalists and the communists. It’s a time of great unrest with no unified government. So, that is where organized crime comes in. If you hadn’t caught it yet, you’d be forgiven, but this is a Romeo and Juliet adaptation! Because rival gangs are the most original way to do this for sure. It’s basically an adaptation of West Side Story, which is already an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. It’s still pretty cool though. The city is split between the Chinese historically powerful Scarlett Gang and the White Flower gang which is primarily made up of Russian immigrants. The White Flowers are a rising power, and the Scarlett Gang is a declining power. So, this all sets up a pretty high tension environment for our two main characters, the heirs of each gang.
The two main characters are Juliette, heir of the Scarlett Gang, and Roma, heir of the White Flowers. In an unseen turn of events they’re also the book's central romance. The names in this book are where the Shakespearean influence is the most garishly obvious. Juliette also has a hot headed cousin named Tyler and Roma’s two best friends are named Benedikt and Marshall. Despite the names being a little too tongue in cheek for me, I really liked all of the characters. Juliette lived in America for a long time and is struggling with connecting to her cultural heritage, especially when she’s supposed to be leading such a traditional Chinese gang. Roma just has daddy issues, but he’s sweet and the love interest in a YA book, so like you’ve just got to take it in stride. Roma’s friends are the secondary romance in the book and are individually compelling. Juliette has like one and a half friends and they’re also her cousins, and I would’ve like a little more depth from them, but I hear one of them is actually getting a spin off series, so I’m sure she’ll get plenty of depth there.
We’ve gotten a long way without talking about the plot at all. That’s probably because it feels kind of secondary to the romance between Juliette and Roma, which is kind of annoying because I thought it was more interesting. There is a monster that’s releasing parasites that make people go insane and rip out their own throats and it’s affecting both gangs. Juliette and Roma team up to solve this issue and shenanigans ensue.
Overall this was a super fun read, I just wish the two leads would’ve focused on their jobs more than the romance. They make poor decisions. The characters are good, the setting and premise is great, and you should totally read this book. You can find it at North Scott High School’s Library!