By Samantha Pak
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Our Violent Ends
By Chloe Gong
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021
Shanghai, 1927. Juliette Cai has been on a mission. After seemingly betraying Roma Montagov—the love of her life and heir of the White Flowers, her family’s rival gang in an ongoing blood feud—any wrong move could lead to her cousin stepping in and usurping her place as heir to the Scarlet Gang.
Meanwhile, Roma is still reeling from his best friend Marshall’s death at the hands of Juliette, while his cousin, Benedikt, will barely speak to him for the same reason. He never believed the girl he loves (and now hates, in equal measure) could be capable of such a betrayal, and now he’s determined to make things right. Even if it means killing her.
If that weren’t enough, the city is on the verge of a revolution. And now Juliette has to convince Roma to work with her (once again) in order to combat everything from monsters and politics, to their true feelings, and save their city—and themselves.
Picking up where “These Violent Delights” left off, this is the conclusion to Gong’s duology based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” And just like the bard’s eponymous couple, Roma and Juliette go through a lot. And while it is their love story, I really appreciated that the story is told from various characters’ points of views—including Marshall and Benedikt, as well as Juliette’s cousins, Kathleen and Rosalind—and seeing how much turmoil everyone is experiencing for various reasons and how this chapter of their lives concludes. By doing this, we see a fuller picture of what’s happening in this world and where all of these young people fit in it. I’m not big on politics in my reading material, but this was one of the few books in which I was just as invested in what was happening in the city as I was with the characters’ internal lives.
A Crown of Wishes
By Roshani Chokshi
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2017
Gauri, princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by an enemy kingdom and is about to be executed. Help comes in the form of Vikram, known as the fox prince of said enemy kingdom. With goals of becoming more than a puppet king, Vikram is on his way to the Tournament of Wishes—a competition in the mythical world, put on by the Lord of Wealth, who awards a wish to the victor—but he needs a partner.
Enter Gauri. Although she wants nothing to do with magic, Gauri agrees to be Vikram’s partner. Because unbeknownst to him (or so she thinks), she just needs him to get her out of prison and plans to kill him the first chance she gets. Once they arrive at the tournament, the pair is faced with poisonous courtesans, mischievous story birds, a feast of fears, and—perhaps the most difficult challenge—their growing feelings for each other.
“A Crown of Wishes” is the sequel to “The Star-Touched Queen,” focusing on Gauri, sister to the previous book’s protagonist (although we do get a glimpse of Maya and Amar and see what they’re up to now). Gauri and Vikram’s love story is a classic enemies-to-lovers tale, with a bit of grumpy-sunshine thrown in for good measure. Gauri, an ever-suspicious warrior princess ready to attack at any sign of danger, pairing up with Vikram, a laidback prince with an up-for-anything-even-if-it-kills-him attitude, makes for a hilarious juxtaposition at times and I really enjoyed seeing their relationship evolve.
This is a story about stories and their power to shape how we see each other. Chokshi shows readers that everyone has a story for how they got to where they are now and it’s all about framing: A curse can be seen as a blessing. A villain can be considered a hero. It’s something we should all remember, that there are two sides (often more) to a story.
The Dragon’s Promise
By Elizabeth Lim
Knopf Books, 2022
While her stepmother, Raikama, was on her deathbed, Princess Shiori made a promise to return the dragon’s pearl to its rightful owner—but she’s finding it easier said than done. Shiori now must journey to the dragons’ kingdom under the sea, navigate politics among humans and dragons alike, and keep the pearl away from thieves willing to do anything to get it—all while maintaining the picture of a perfect princess, especially as there are those who would love nothing more than to see her burned at the stake for the magic that runs in her blood.
And then there’s the pearl itself. With a mind of its own, the pearl will help Shiori and betray her whenever it pleases and there’s no way for her to predict what it’ll do next, leaving her and her loved ones in constant danger.
Picking up right where the previous story left off, “Dragon’s Promise” is the sequel to “Six Crimson Cranes.” Shiori is still the same stubborn and strong-willed princess, willing to do whatever it takes to protect the ones she loves. One thing I really enjoyed is how her family and Takkan—the boy she loves—won’t let her go on this quest alone. They’re all there for her, doing their part to defeat the evil that threatens their kingdom. I really appreciated this because it turns the hero’s journey archetype on its head and reminds readers that we can’t do everything on our own—especially save the world.
“Dragon’s Promise” is also a love story, showcasing all types of love—from the typical romance between Shiori and Takkan, to familial love among Shiori and her brothers, father, and now deceased stepmother, to the platonic love she finds among the friends Shiori makes along the way. My favorite relationship is between Shiori and Kiki, her enchanted paper bird who has no problem speaking her mind—even when she’s yelling at the dragon’s pearl that it should want to go home.