I can't imagine a better way to end 2022 and ring in 2023 than reading a Chloe Gong book, which is exactly why I started reading my ARC of Last Violent Call at 11:30pm last night. Shout out again to my bestie Grace over at Linden Tree Books for knowing exactly how to make my holiday magical!
Last Violent Call is a two novella boxed set that follows some familiar faces in Chloe's Secret Shanghai universe.
Spoiler alert: This review (and the novellas themselves) contain spoilers for These Violent Delights, Our Violent Ends, and Foul Lady Fortune. Do not read any further down unless you have already read all three books listed.
The first novella in the boxed set is titled A Foul Thing and takes place concurrently with the events of Foul Lady Fortune. The second novella is titled This Foul Murder and takes place after the events of Foul Lady Fortune. (This is your last chance to scroll away before the spoilers begin.)
A Foul Thing follows our favorite (former) gangster heirs Roma and Juliette as they navigate their life after faking their deaths at the end of Our Violent Ends. It has been four years and they have established a home for themselves in Zhouzhuang (as well as a business of illegal arms dealing - old habits die hard, right?) When an unexpected visitor comes to their door, they find out that several Russian girls have been found dead in surrounding towns. As they dig deeper into the mystery, they find that there is a connection to home that will cause them to question if they can continue with their peaceful life or risk it all to help those they love from their old life.
I DIDN'T KNOW I NEEDED ROMA AND JULIETTE DOMESTIC SOFTNESS UNTIL THIS BOOK! A lot of action happens in a very short amount of time (the novella is just 177 pages), but we get so many glimpses into a domestic, normal life for Roma and Juliette that they never got to have. It's incredibly endearing to watch these two who grew up hard and fierce settle into a small town and do things that normal husbands and wives do (minus the underground weapons ring). Chloe is effortlessly able to build this completely different side of Roma and Juliette while still gently reminding us that they are actually badasses who can hold their own.
While reading this story, I was completely under the assumption that it took place after the events of Foul Lady Fortune. I was happily surprised to find that they took place concurrently. This novella perfectly sets up the context of how and why Rosalind gets that note at the end of Foul Lady Fortune and it was the most fun little Easter egg that I wasn't expecting at all until it happened on the page. It felt like this was just another few chapters in Foul Lady Fortune, but from the POV of Roma and Juliette and I love the absolute cohesiveness that Chloe was able to achieve between these two works.
Also, I can't say enough about how glad I am to finally have actual, on page, canon confirmation that Roma and Juliette are alive and living in domestic bliss. I had a feeling (as I'm sure many others did) that they were still alive (hello, Alisa totally saw them sailing away), but it is nice to have concrete proof that they are alive and well and happy. They deserve it after all the years they suffered through.
This Foul Murder takes place immediately after the events of Foul Lady Fortune and A Foul Thing. Benedikt and Marshall have been tasked by Roma to travel to find our old friend Lourens. Everything has to go perfectly in order for them to complete their mission. But when a body is found aboard the train they are traveling on, Benedikt and Marshall must pose as investigators and find the murderer in order to keep the train moving and not derail their very tight timeline. As their investigation continues, they find that the murder may be more connected to their mission than they first thought.
BENMARS BENMARS BENMARS!! I cannot explain how excited I was when it was announced that we'd get a story with Benedikt and Marshall at the forefront. After two books with them as strong side characters, it was nice to see these two characters that I love so, so dearly get to be in the spotlight. Just like with Roma and Juliette, we get to see a bit of a softer side to Benedikt and Marshall now that they have finally admitted their feelings for each other. They don't get as many moments to display their affection though as it is the 1930s and they have to keep their relationship on the down-low so as to avoid reactions from bigots. What we do get of their tender and flirty moments made my heart swell.
The story feels very murder mystery and I couldn't get a handle on who could have possibly been the murderer until it was revealed in the end. With each new piece of evidence, the mystery deepened and I was just as confused as Benedikt and Marshall were. While the mystery of the story is solved, there is still much to be done when the novella ends and will lead perfectly into the sequel to Foul Lady Fortune coming later this year.
If you are a fan of Chloe Gong like I am, these novellas are the perfect bridge to get you over the hump of waiting for the sequel to Foul Lady Fortune. They were a quick visit with some old faces that will prepare us for what's sure to be a thrilling conclusion. Unlike Chloe's other books, there is not much (if any) emotional damage in these two novellas, just some lovely married softness.
Last Violent Call is available for preorder here and hits shelves on February 28, 2023. If you're looking for something more fancy, Waterstones has an exclusive edition here (signed) and here (unsigned).
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book for free and have voluntarily written this review. If you purchase a copy using my Amazon affiliate link above, I will receive a small commission which will fuel my coffee and tea addiction and help to keep me up all night reading more books to recommend to you.