YA can really be ruthless sometimes.
From gory, bloody murder to absolutely tragic & heartbreaking stories, there is no end to the lengths these stories can go. They’ll break your heart, and be glad for it.
As such, today I’m talking about three fantastically ruthless fantasy stories that I enjoyed reading this year, and I’ve centered my recommendations around the tropes & themes in them! So, no traditional reviews here. Just lots of discussion about themes & tropes to whet your appetites 😈
Below is the short graphic so you can figure out which you want to start with, and then I elaborate on what specifically makes these books have teeth.
Do you like your romance with . . .
Because These Violent Delights features Juliette Cai and Roma Montogov, on two sides of a blood feud, a few years after they had fallen in love and then betrayed each other. This mysterious fallout leads to a lot of tension in the book, and it’s delicious and dramatic and everything you’d expect from a Romeo & Juliette retelling.
Definitely a little more on the untraditional side of second chances (is the second chance going to work? we are not sure.), but absolutely an exciting romance that I am absolutely rooting for. I needed book 2 yesterday. (2 Violent 2 Delightful.)
lots of banter?
Megan Bannen is like. The queen of banter. I absolutely adore Gelya & Tavik’s dynamic & inside jokes (contractions! Knife of I’m Very Pissed Off Right Now! the hair ruffling!) as they continue on their journey in Soulswift, and it’s all the more heartbreaking when Things Happen. You can’t help but fall in love with their contrast and want them to be happy.
Gelya & Tavik’s relationship very much Tall Awkward Girl Raised in a Covenant meets Grungy Sword Fighter With a Heart of Gold. I love them so much. My favorite chaotic duo.
the slowest of burns?
Squinting will do you no good in Beyond the Ruby Veil. You’re going to have to whip out a goddamn electron microscope and zoom in to find the romance. It’s the slowest of slowest of slowest of burns, and I can’t believe we have to wait another year to get another taste of Emanuela and [redacted].
Regardless, there’s so many other things to tickle your fancy while you wait (the Emanuela & Alessandro friendship), you won’t be peeved by the lack of romance. Emanuela’s shenanigans should be more than enough to keep you occupied in this first installment . . .
Your choice of weaponry would be . . .
knives & guns?
The Scarlet Gang prefers knives, while The White Flowers lean towards guns, but that is by no means the extent of tools of violence in These Violent Delights. Juliette has a garrote disguised as a necklace, and we also get this gem of a thought from Roma: “How is she concealing all her weapons?”
Lots of hand-to-hand physical violence, with dashes of sneaking around, wearing oversized coats, and also a hefty amount of monster-induced throat-tearing.
Gelya isn’t really a “Chosen One” per se. She’s more of a right person in the wrong place. That’s how she ended up with a spirit stuck inside her, for one. It grants a lot of power, practically bubbling over, but we soon see that the consequences are very, very dire.
The spirit inside her can barely be contained, and although its power is immense (healing people from the brink of death! taking down your enemies!) Soulswift points us to the way it drains Gelya and is going very, very wrong.
anything can be a weapon.
I firmly believe that Emanuela can kill someone with just her glare. She is too fierce to be contained by mere mortal tools. Her rage & strategy transcends simple tools and training.
Be wary. Beyond the Ruby Veil is out to get you.
Do you like . . .
These Violent Delights is set in 1926 Shanghai, and it is chock-full of atmosphere, world politics of the time period, and a really intriguing examination of the Western & Eastern worlds in Shanghai.
We see all sorts of things like Juliette being more comfortable in Western flapper dresses, because of the time she spent in America, versus the long qipaos that her friends wear, as well as a deep look into the colonizing European forces in Shanghai at the time. (Boy, watch out for those.) Gong truly does a fantastic job of detailing the political forces in her story.
A completely new world (although, art does not exist in a vacuum and there are obviously real-life influences), Soulswift introduces us to warring nations, differing faiths, and isolationist areas that are more important than you think.
It might seem a little bit complicated to deal with a whole new world, but you’ll grasp the basics just in time for you to question who to trust and what the truth really is. (And truth is a huge theme in this story.)
Beyond the Ruby Veil isn’t urban in a sprawling city sense, but more of a grungy town sense. Yeah. Whoops. The world is far more vast than you imagine at first, and the meshing of magic, unknown past worldbuilding, and its bloody storyline makes Beyond the Ruby Veil gritty and unputdownable.
It’s hard to pin the exact theme, but it’s unique and engrossing when you realize the small area you’re introduced to is much, much larger than it first seems.
Do you wish to be bound by . . .
Okay, so technically only The Scarlet Gang values family over everything (The White Flowers operate differently), but obviously, #TeamJuliette, thus family is undeniable.
Gong sets up a lot of really juicy gang dynamics in These Violent Delights, and I can’t wait to see where she continues some of them in the sequel. Because there’s not only tension within the family (there’s a mole!), but there’s also resentment brewing between gang members who aren’t family with the family. So many interesting dynamics to explore, and I can’t recommend this story enough.
As I alluded to, religion plays a huge role in Soulswift, as Gelya was raised in a covenant, but she soon begins to question her faith because of Tavik. The religion in this story is almost like a character of its own, with the way you and Gelya are trying to figure out what truly happened, and how this history was warped through religious practices.
I really like how Bannen managed the idea of Gelya seeking truth, yet yearning to be faithful. It manifests in a lot of different ways throughout the story, and I was so pleasantly surprised by the way religion was examined in Soulswift, especially because it’s technically one of my least favorite fantasy premises 🙈
In Beyond the Ruby Veil, Emanuela serves no one. She is the most ruthless of the ruthless, and no one is safe.
It’s why her friendship with Alessandro is so interesting to me, because as a reader, we’re left questioning just how far Emanuela will go. Is she truly bound by no one, or are there limits to her ruthlessness? Fitzgerald’s examination of ruthless women in Beyond the Ruby Veil is so intriguing, I can’t recommend it enough.
Would you prefer . . .
There’s a physical monster in Shanghai, lurking in the river. How to find it? That’s the question. There’s also bugs (shudders), potential contagious disease, and also the potential to be murdered if you take one step too far out of your territory.
The physical antagonists are numerous in These Violent Delights, and even until the very last page, you’ll be sitting there desperate for what’s to come. Who else will come out of the woodwork, hoping for a piece of Shanghai?
a spirit inside of you?
Gelya is . . . conflicted. The tl;dr is that in Soulswift, Gelya gets this spirit inside her. But she’s not sure if it’s a demon (what her religion says!) or if it’s a goddess (what another says!). She has to parse through her own feelings and what the people around her are telling her, so she can figure out the truth.
The spirit isn’t particularly vocal in this story (although I do love stories like that!), and Gelya has more than enough to deal with anyways. The tingles and power it gives her is a source of a lot of conflict.
A huge part of Beyond the Ruby Veil is actually gaining information. Things are not adding up, and Emmanuela is going to get to the bottom of it, no matter what. (It doesn’t hurt that she is kind of forced to problem solve, as well.)
She doesn’t know where things aren’t adding up, but her journey to find information is . . . illuminating 👁️ at the least. (That was a pun. It will make sense when you read.)
What did you think of this post? More helpful than a normal review? It was fun to talk about the parts of the stories I loved in juxtaposition to each other!