As someone who really dislikes Shakespeare (but really wants to like it), I’m so happy to have found a retelling of Romeo and Juliet that I enjoyed!
Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov are sworn enemies due to the blood feud between their two gangs: the Scarlets and White Flowers. But suddenly a madness starts infecting people on both territories of Shanghai, killing increasing numbers of Scarlets and White Flowers alike. The two have to put aside their painful pasts in order to figure out what is causing the madness, as well as hide their tenuous partnership from the rest of the gangsters.
I really, really love morally grey characters, so Juliette was so much fun to read. It was interesting to contrast her thorny exterior with her inner monologue and justifications for her actions (such as needing to be doubly fearsome due to the fact that she is a women inheriting leadership of the Scarlets). At first I really didn’t want to like Roma, but I ended up falling for him in the end. He was such a puppy-dog guy, which I’m also a sucker for.
I very much loved the side characters as well. Kathleen had my ENTIRE heart, with her cleverness and fierce loyalty to Juliette. Marshall and Benedikt had some banter that added humor and charm to the dialogue of the book as well. I really appreciated the diversity of these characters, and the fact that they still had pretty big roles in the book (they didn’t seem to be there for diversity’s sake alone).
The Romeo-Juliet aspect of the book was done really well in my opinion, with enough of a tie to the original book (besides the names) for it to be recognizable. At the same time I loved the more modern twist, the change of setting, the commentary on race and colonization, and the sci-fi aspects that were mixed in as well. It struck the perfect balance between old and new.
I do have to say that a couple parts confused me. I didn’t exactly understand the dynamic of the nationalists versus communist versus factory workers versus foreigners versus gangsters. That may be totally my fault, but I found all of the overlapping identities and loyalties hard to keep straight. Sometimes there were really long sentences/descriptions that lost me in the middle and I had to reread over a few times. There were also a couple of predictable elements in the Roma-Juliette story (outside of what was to be expected).
Those were pretty small and picky points for me. This book managed to get me out of a reading slump, and I really enjoyed it! I can’t wait to read the sequel as well.
Happy reading (:
Intended Audience: older YA
Content warnings: death, gore, murder