Romance lovers must know the name of Ana Huang, who has established a formidable online presence in the social media spheres. Her Twisted series — and the passionate following it’s gained — is evidence of Huang’s writing capabilities and their widespread appeal.
King of Wrath is Huang’s latest: the first book of Huang’s newest series Kings of Sin. The book chronicles the romance between Vivian Lau and Dante Russo, a jewelry heiress and an Italian billionaire CEO, respectively, who find themselves in an arranged marriage due to a business agreement. It’s a twisted setup, even if this isn’t part of the Twisted series (get the joke?).
Vivian’s father Francis, the head of “new money” Lau Jewels, blackmails Dante to marry Vivian with evidence that Dante’s brother, Luca, is romancing a woman with ties to the mafia. If news of the romance spreads to the mafia, Luca will be killed due to the forbidden dalliance. To protect his brother, Dante must follow through with the proposed marriage.
Right away, readers know that this is the inciting incident for Vivian and Dante’s relationship, one with extremely high stakes. It’s clear what Dante needs from the agreement, and along the way Dante struggles to gather up enough material (and delete enough information) to free himself from the marriage, save his brother, and bring Lau Jewels down. Later on, though, as Dante spends more time with Vivian, he begins to fall in love. There’s a dramatic forbidden aspect to the romance given that Francis is the one blackmailing Dante, a fact that Dante struggles with as he falls for Vivian. If he destroys her father’s company — what gave Vivian her place in society — wouldn’t he be destroying Vivian too?
It should be said that Dante is an attractive male lead, even if his romance with Vivian is largely predictable. Some of his dialogue and internal monologues come across as stiff, as if they’re trying too hard to be swoonworthy. There are also a few issues with the progression of the relationship; Huang sometimes skips whole periods of time when it seems like they would be integral to the slow development of the romance over time. As it is, Dante’s attraction to Vivian happens and escalates very quickly. But who can blame Dante when Vivian is conveyed comparatively in-depth?
Vivian is Chinese, and although her ethnicity isn’t the primary topic of discussion (nor should it be) in the story, her identity is very much a part of the plot. Vivian acquiesces to the arranged marriage because she’s afraid of disappointing her father and values respect for one’s elders. These cultural concepts may resonate with Asian audiences, especially when they contribute to the conflict between Vivian and Dante.
As a businessman, Dante is very much independent from his parents and doesn’t understand why Vivian is so passive in front of her family. The two eventually fight over this, a cultural clash that shows the need for mutual cultural understanding in a successful relationship.
Vivian also struggles with her father’s desire to achieve validation — through the means of business and wealth — for himself. This notion of “saving face” is very specific to Chinese culture. Here it has to do with image: image of the business and image of the family, which have become inseparable. Francis believes that because he is the head of Lau Jewels and has provided his family with the means to sustain their lifestyle, his family is obligated to follow what he says to improve their status at all costs.
That’s why Vivian can only say yes when her father marries her off to Dante, whose high status makes him an instant approval. Still, Vivian despises being treated as an object, only a means for her father to level up in the world of high society. She wishes that their family could go back to the kind of family they were before they had access to this materialistic world.
Wealth is often associated with power, and the two are directly reflected in the vivid setting that Huang has rendered here: society galas, grand locales from Paris to New York, and private jets. All of these add to the ambience of King of Wrath and are also part of the thematic discussion around “face” and image.
There are many unspoken words in the conversations between the uber-wealthy elite, and that’s something that Huang incorporates here in conjunction with Vivian’s character arc. To become a part of that world, one must learn how to maintain that positive image, even if it means having to put on a performance. Putting on an act is Vivian’s whole life in business and her family.
It’s easy to say that there are plenty of steamy romance scenes between Dante and Vivian. What might not be as easily mentioned are the ways that Vivian ultimately decides to create her own identity. Her romance with Dante motivates her eventual decision to create her own identity rather than merely being the obedient daughter of her parents. In the context of Vivian’s arc, this feels necessary.
Later, Vivian gains the courage to stand up to her parents. Although her father is too absorbed in “saving face” to listen, her mother explains that she only constantly criticizes Vivian out of love — a reasoning that is again reflective of many Asian cultures. It is implied that, because Lau Jewels is a Chinese company, that it is much more difficult for the Laus to gain respect compared to their white peers in business. These explanations don’t absolve Vivian’s parents for their actions, but they provide a racialized aspect to the business conflicts that seem to exist at every point.
King of Wrath is a billionaire romance story, sure – that’s a given. The billionaire romance has a critical place in the romance genre; so do Vivian and Dante. Showcasing Ana Huang’s storytelling skills, King of Wrath is a compelling addition to the genre.