Chloe Gong won herself a legion of devoted fans with her YA fantasy retelling of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, aptly titled These Violent Delights. The explosive sequel and concluding book, These Violent Ends, was released last year to equal acclaim. But as Foul Lady Fortune reveals, the story of the duology’s wider cast of characters is far from over. Shifting the focus to Juliette Cai’s cousin Rosalind Lang, the novel sees the former showgirl entering into a fake marriage in order to investigate a series of brutal murders in 1930’s Shanghai.
Four years ago, Rosalind was brought back from the brink of death. But the strange experiment that saved her life also gave her special abilities. Now she doesn’t sleep or age, and she can heal from any wound. Rosalind has become difficult to kill, which makes her perfect assassin material. Desperate for redemption for her traitorous past, she uses her abilities for her country. Code name: Fortune. Weapon of choice: Poison. But with the Japanese Imperial Army bearing down on her beloved homeland, Rosalind is given a new mission. A mission that will pair her with the renowned son of a Nationalist general.
Orion Hong has an agenda of his own but the two spies must work together, posing as a married couple to infiltrate a conspiracy that threatens their country. With someone targeting civilians on the streets, Rosalind and Orion have a race against time to unravel the mystery. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fight is Rosalind’s sister Celia and Orion’s brother Oliver, who are embarking on their own dangerous mission. The fight will lead them all to a deadly plot that’s worse than any of them could have imagined.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps—this was a game that haunted Rosalind late into her eternal nights, a useless exercise of cataloging every thing she’d done wrong to end up where she was today.”
Gong’s Shakespeare-inspired universe is one packed with political intrigue, personal machinations and secret agents of both the double and triple variety. Sometimes when books are so detailed and intricately woven it’s difficult to reimmerse yourself with the story after a year away from it. But slipping back into this dangerous, double-crossing world is incredibly easy (even if the fabled Scarlet and White Flower gangs from the original duology are a thing of the past). It’s made all the more thrilling by the breathless opening, which sees Rosalind on a daring assassination assignment aboard a train. After that, Foul Lady Fortune goes from one tense near miss and fraught confrontation to the next – all the while bringing Rosalind and Orion closer together.
Of course this is a story of duplicity and conflicted allegiances, but the most exciting part of the plot is the will-they-won’t-they relationship between the two spies at its heart. Emotionally speaking, Rosalind is a locked vault. Having been hurt too many times in the past, she’s closed herself off from love and compassion. It’s safer that way. But aside from being infuriatingly vivacious, Orion is also so effortlessly amiable. Even when he’s not trying to win Rosalind over, he still manages to sneak through the hairline cracks in her defences. But when he’s actively trying to be charming, the effort it takes for Rosalind to keep the walls around her heart raised is palpable. Every tender moment between Rosalind and Orion is so perfectly timed and orchestrated. You can really feel their relationship shifting as if happens.
Along with its early Shakespearian influences, Foul Lady Fortune uses real life history to shape the key events of the story and the characters’ motives. As much as it’s a compelling fantasy tale of love, tested loyalties and super-soldier experimentation, it’s also, in Gong’s own words, an exploration of “imperialism, nationalism and cultural generational trauma”. It gives the book a greater depth and a weight to the work Rosalind and Orion are doing. Their fight feels wholly important, not just to the world they exist in but to readers too.
Foul Lady Fortune reads much better when you know the history of the characters and their families. So whilst reading the These Violent Delights duology isn’t a prerequisite, it helps to enrich the characters’ continuing arcs and also aids the overall worldbuilding. And when a story is this pacy and captivating, with such beautifully written characters, why wouldn’t you want to read every book that shapes the world they exist in?
Foul Lady Fortune was published by Hodder & Stoughton on 27 September 2022