Chloe Gong, author of New York Time’s bestselling novel These Violent Delights and recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, has once expanded upon the world of her previous duology. Published Sept. 27, Foul Lady Fortune serves as a retelling of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The story follows Rosalind Lang, back from the brink of death and with a deadly secret of her own, four years after the events of These Violent Delights. She’s now working as a spy for the Nationalists. Set on against the background of a tumultuous time in Shanghai’s political history, Rosalind’s assignment shifts to investigate the most recent string of chemical killings sweeping across the city.
This duology is meant to read as a standalone, meaning readers don’t have to be familiar with These Violent Delights to understand the events and characters in Foul Lady Fortune, and, while I agree that the exposition of the past duology explains past events rather well, I would have to warn those interested in reading the novel to consider how heavily spoiled they are comfortable being. Our Violent Ends, the latter half of the original duology, has an explosive ending with unavoidable, rippling consequences that neither the reader nor Rosalind can ignore.
An assassin. A spy. A fake marriage. A dysfunctional family.
Though I wasn’t particular to Rosalind’s character in These Violent Delights, I found myself rooting for her throughout the entirety of Foul Lady Fortune. She has quickly become my favorite character in the whole series, and I highly believe it is because the plot played to her strengths. The exposition of past events doesn’t detract from the pacing. It’s easily slid into chapters and used to add character depth, exposing Rosalind’s deepest secret and why she’s gone from showgirl to secret agent in the first place. She doesn’t sleep, she doesn’t age, and she can heal from any wound. Immortality. The perfect recipe for a spy, which is exactly what she becomes. It’s because of her past as one of the most trusted and proficient Nationalist agents that causes Rosalind to be assigned to a mission that puts her out of her comfort zone and serves as one of the most compelling plots I’ve ever read.
Espionage novels always hold a soft spot in my heart - I am deep in my Spy x Family phase right now – Foul Lady Fortune takes each element of what would be expected and elevates it. More so, exposition to a new cast of characters isn’t heavy either. It serves to set up character focused mysteries. My main issue with such a large storyline to cover was the POV switching in the middle of chapters. Granted, Gong makes it easy to figure out what character is narrating whenever she does. There are a few instances where two characters are interacting and it goes from one POV to the other, causing a confusing reread of the passage to figure out what’s going on. Other than that, she does an exceptional job establishing this world as having grown from her previous works. A strong point for Gong to not only separate this novel from These Violent Delights but also manages to expand upon the universe in a new, invigorating way, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. Furthermore, As You Like It is a comedy, which translates well through moments of Gong’s piece. She perfectly blends humor into a dark thrilling tale. It’s plotlines like these that make it clear even the classics can be told in more than one way.
Orion deserves more than 3 stars
Gong brings familiar faces back to life. Rosalind, obviously, makes her appearance as the main focus of this book, but the reader also follows through the point of views of her sister, Celia, and Alisa, the not-so-little-anymore sister to Roma Montagov, both of whom had substantial roles in These Violent Delights. New, compelling characters are also introduced. Orion Hong, Nationalist Spy and Rosalind’s newly assigned husband; his brother Oliver, working with the Communists; their little sister Phoebe, overeager to jump into spy work herself; and Silas, a triple spy, best friend, and official Phoebe protector. These new names, obviously, are a nod to Shakespeare’s work, but Gong makes them entirely her own.
The characters are easily the best thing about this novel, which says a lot because I had a hard time truly deciding on a favorite aspect. I should have known I was going to fall in love with them, though, as soon as the author herself described the book at ‘grumpy demisexual’ x ‘manic trainwreck bisexual.’ And did she deliver. Chloe herself was born in Shanghai and her representation of how the city shapes people shines through in her characters. The prose is pretty, but not overwhelming. The action scenes are easy to follow. Her descriptions of Shanghai make the city feel alive. They’re vivid, poetic, and concise. She draws you into the world, makes you care about it, and at the end of the book you’re left stunned by how beautiful a book can truly be. That isn’t to say she acts as an overarching expert of Asian representation – it’s never right to put pressure of that volume onto one author’s characters. Her LGBTQ+ representation also shines through with a demisexual main character, Orion and Phoebe being bisexual, Cecilia is transgender, and Alisa is asexual. It is hinted Alisa may be aromantic as well, which was so exciting to read. It’s about time the aro-ace community got a strong character to look to.
More so, these characters feel realistic. They’re more than just words on the page. Rosalind’s redemption arc is not something I ever would have asked for, but I am beyond glad that she received. Gong allowed her to move on and learn from her past decisions while allowing her to remain in character, with flaws that drive Orion mad. His aloof, playboy character is immediately eye catching. No matter how much you want to hate him, you can’t. He’s funny and charming and reveals himself to be someone who cares deeply about those closest to him. Orion sets the standards high for almost every role he fills. Husband, brother, and spy. Not only that, but he manages to have an interesting dynamic with every character he interacts with as well. Truly allowing not only himself but also side characters a moment to shine. And they absolutely do.
Stake out, make out: enemies-ish to lovers done right
My favorite thing about Chloe Gong is that she knows how to write a romance. Fake marriage tropes are hard to pull off. A reluctant, frenemies to lovers arc is even harder, but you would never guess with the work Gong puts into developing Rosalind and Orion. They’re a slow burn in the beginning, which works to the novels favor. It gives plenty of time for the two of them to get into awkward scenarios as they navigate being newlyweds before they jump into what might be my favorite line in the novel: “Your life is mine as mine is yours.” The minute Orion’s joking term of endearment became real… my heart melted. I was audibly rooting for them the whole time; shouting with frustration when the sexual tension was interrupted, awing whenever they would show care for each other (in their own, awkward ways), and laughing at the back and forth banter they never failed to deliver. I think their relationship is realistic because Orion and Rosalind are mirrors of one another despite believing they’re anything but. Once that realization that they might not be as different as they thought sets in throughout their adventures unmasking the chemical serial killer, there’s no denying their budding chemistry – pun entirely intended.
One gripe I have with the relationships in the rest of the novel is that they’re rather underdeveloped. It’s to be expected, with Rosalind and Orion’s story being the main focus, but I was disappointed that the hinted feelings of Phoebe and Silas as well as the rocky relationship of Oliver and Celia were introduced and left without a thought. Hopefully they’re explored deeper in the much-anticipated sequel. Gong did make up for this lack of deepening side romances by creating realistic sibling interactions instead. Oliver and Orion hold the tension of two brothers split by political turmoil, a tough family life, and mutual care for one another without being able to outwardly say it while Rosalind and Celia hold the apprehension of keeping Rosalind’s secret close to their chests even if it means caring for one another without face-to-face contact. It’s heartbreaking and moving, which is where Phoebe’s firecracker energy works well. She helps to establish the other end of the spectrum, giving the characters lighthearted moments. Even Rosalind can’t help but feel protective over her.
I need the sequel immediately
Foul Lady Fortune opens doors left cracked in Gong’s previous story. She manages to flesh out old and new characters in ways that lead to realistic relationships, an exhilarating plot, and a cliffhanger that ensures readers will be coming back for part. It’s clear her time between books has sharpened her skills, making me all too excited for the next half of this duology.
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