My books this week are very different from one another. One is a piece of historical fiction, reworking ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in Shanghai in 1926. The other about nuns in space. The only thing that they have in common is that authors are both trying to do something new and bold with well-established themes.
‘These Violent Delights‘ by Chloe Gong (2020)
Usually, I’m cautious about stories that reimagine Shakespeare. They can feel like an exercise rather than a novel that springs from the author’s passion. From everything that I’ve heard, ‘These Violent Delights’ stands up as a novel in its own right, stepping out from Shakespeare’s shadow to create something interesting.
The setting of the book appeals to me. Shanghai was a violent place in the 1920s. It contained an international settlement, run with the Americans, the British and the Japanese. It was the largest centre for opium smuggling in China and was home to powerful gangsters who also ran gambling and prostitution on a large scale. It was the city in which the CCP was founded. The book is set a year before the Shanghai massacre in which the Guomindang under Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) teamed up with the Green Gang to attack the CCP and the unions, an action which is often seen as the start of the Chinese Civil war. I’m looking forward to having a story in which the main characters are all Chinese and not the British ex-pats, trying to sustain their power during a struggle that they often failed to understand.
I’m intrigued that the book was originally marketed as a YA novel. I suspect that’s a sign that the publishers don’t know how to classify a Chinese-centric piece of historical fiction, which takes its title and some of its story structure from Shakespeare and hints at the involvement of supernatural forces.
I’m hoping to find this book exciting enough that I want to go on and read the sequel, ‘Our Violent Ends’.
‘Sisters Of The Forsaken Stars’ by Lina Rather, (2022)
I’ve been waiting for ‘Sisters Of The Forsake Stars’ to come out ever since I finished, ‘Sisters Of The Vast Black’, the first book in the series.
Lina Rather described these books as being about ‘Nuns living in a giant slug in outer-space’. In the first book, we met the Sisters of the Order of Saint Rita who travel the outer reaches of mankind’s colonies in the stars, tending to the sick and carrying out marriages and baptisms. They travel aboard their convent, Our Lady of Impossible Constellations which is a vast, genetically engineered mollusc called a Liveship.
By the end of the first book, some secrets about the sisters had been revealed and they’d managed to entangle themselves in a struggle between Earth and its colonies. I’m keen to see how it turns out.