The follow-up novella to Chloe Gong’s Foul Lady Fortune, published in September, Last Violent Call starts with a bang — or more accurately, the effects of one. From the (suspenseful) announcement of who the novella’s two stories were going to be about, readers discovered that Roma and Juliette, the beloved couple from Gong’s Romeo and Juliet retelling, are actually alive, having escaped the explosion they set off in Shanghai. It’s a relief, given that the end of Our Violent Ends was nothing if not heartbreaking (to say the least).
The first story of Last Violent Call is “A Foul Thing,” and it follows Roma and Juliette as they lead an underground weapons operation in Zhouzhuang, a city distant from Shanghai. Although they’re not the powerful gang heirs they were in previously, they’re still two lovebirds who can’t get enough of each other. It’s particularly satisfying to return to these characters as they showed some semblance of domestic life. Fans of the original series will love “A Foul Thing,” as it truly shows Gong’s writing prowess in a fresh and yet faithful fashion.
Although Last Violent Call is intended to be a supplement to the events of Foul Lady Fortune, one can’t help but feel that Gong may be more comfortable writing about Roma and Juliette – or at least, that seems to be what the writing reflects. The romantic dynamic between the two is rarely forced, as it sometimes felt between Rosalind and Orion in Foul Lady Fortune, and the dialogue flows with just the perfect amount of wittiness and actual adoration.
It’s clear that Gong has a clear sense of who Roma and Juliette are, and it’s gratifying to see the two get the sort of “happily ever after” they deserve, even if it might not be the kind of traditional ending one might expect. After all, “A Foul Thing” connects to Foul Lady Fortune. In the plot of this particular story, Roma and Juliette must draw from their gangster pasts in order to discover why Russian girls are turning up dead. The two may have shed their past selves with the guns and violent physical fights, but Gong shows readers that that’s what the two are good at here.
There’s plenty of expansion of the original duology. “A Foul Thing” thus creates an epic quality that Foul Lady Fortune wasn’t quite able to execute. Roma and Juliette have been undercover for the longest time, but soon find that they may need to get involved in what’s going on in Shanghai, even if it means risking the anonymity and relative safety that they’ve established for themselves. This is an exciting prospect, but one might think: could readers return to Roma and Juliette in another full-length book?
The “Romeo and Juliet” retelling is the most known — and arguably most powerful — demonstration of Gong’s mastery of tension, romance, and genre-mashing. It would be distressing to think that the perspectives of these two characters end here in this novella.
The second story, “This Foul Murder,” follows Benedikt and Marshall, fellow members of Roma’s White Flowers gang. Like Roma and Juliette, the two are now happily married and have been recruited by Roma to bring the scientist Lourens (from the original duology) to Zhouzhuang, as Lourens has vanished even though he may prove to be integral later on. Benedikt and Marshall get on the Trans-Siberian Express train, but find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery. The two band together to become sleuths in a sort of riff on Agatha Christie’s classic detective novel Murder on the Orient Express.
Custom with Gong’s writing, the aesthetics of her storytelling are impeccable, especially with the cold, grand setting of a train. Coupled with her familiarity with her characters, it’s a recipe for a short but engaging story. Benedikt and Marshall have contrasting personalities, and the banter is enjoyable. Not to mention, it’s also satisfying to see these two characters get their own happy ending together and their own focus given all that they suffered in the past.
Both stories do possess a similar problem that has been a part of Gong’s previous novels as well: there is a lot going on all at once. Gong has an impressive ability to incorporate hints and subtle information that’s only evident to those who read between the lines. However, this also means that with all of the seemingly different conspiracies, plots, and forces at work, it’s easy to get confused with what the main arc of the story is. Perhaps this will become clearer in the sequel to Foul Lady Fortune, but it would have been helpful if these different ideas coalesced in a more palpable manner.
The novella may feel much too short, but Last Violent Call is a much-welcome return to old characters. Even with an impending continuation of the storyline, there’s still hope that these four characters will call upon readers once more.