The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Chloe Gong’s Our Violent Ends, the sequel to These Violent Delights—publishing November 16th with Margaret K. McElderry Books.
The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.
After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on a mission. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.
Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.
Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.
Benedikt was tiring of the city’s talk, tiring of the fear that a new madness had erupted.
It had. There was a new madness—that was already certain. What good was jabbering on about it, as if discussing the matter would increase one’s immunity? If it was supposed to be a coping mechanism, then Benedikt supposed he had never been much good at taking advantage of coping mechanisms anyway. He only knew how to swallow, and swallow, and swallow, until a black hole had grown in his stomach to suck everything away. Until it was all pushed somewhere else, and then he could forget that he never knew what to do with himself in the daylight hours anymore. He could forget the argument with Roma this morning, about the rumors that he was working with Juliette Cai, and then his confirmation that they were not mere rumors but truth, that Lord Montagov had set them to become allies.
Benedikt wanted to break something. He hadn’t touched his art supplies in months, but recently he had been entertaining the urge to destroy it all. Stab his paintbrush right through his canvas and hope that the damage would be enough to make him feel better.
For all that they had done, the Scarlet Gang didn’t deserve clemency even in the face of a new madness. But then who was Benedikt to have any say in this?
Benedikt looked up at the summons, his hands stilling around the pocketknife he was testing. He wasn’t in the main Montagov headquarters often, dropping by only to swipe a few new weapons and rummage about the cupboards a little. Even so, in all the times he had been here previous, he had caught incensed discussion from Lord Montagov’s office, usually about the new threat of madness and what they were to do if an assassin let loose monsters on the city. It always ended the same way. Ever since the Podsolnukh, they paid the demands that came.
Today was the first time in a while that the floor above was silent; instead of voices wafting down, a White Flower was leaning on the handrail of the staircase, waving for his attention.
“We need extra hands to install a wardrobe,” the White Flower said. Benedikt didn’t know his name, but he recognized the other boy’s face, knew that he was one of the many occupants in this labyrinth of a house. “Do you have a moment?”
Benedikt shrugged. “Why not?”
He stood and slipped the pocketknife away, following the White Flower up the stairs. If Benedikt continued climbing, he would approach the fourth floor, where his former bedroom used to be, where Roma and Alisa still resided. It was the core wing of the house, but instead of continuing up in that direction, the White Flower he was following pivoted left and ventured deeper into the middle rooms and hallways, squeezing by bustling kitchens and ducking under poorly installed ceiling beams. Once one walked farther away from the main wing of the headquarters and into the parts that used to be different apartments, the architecture became a fever dream, more nonsensical than logical.
They came upon a small room where three other White Flowers were already waiting, holding up various panels of wood. The boy who had summoned Benedikt quickly grabbed hold of a hammer, securing one of the panels from a White Flower who was visibly sweating.
“If you—ow! Sorry, if you could get the last few panels over there?”
The first boy pointed, then put the thumb of his other hand to his mouth. He had accidentally caught it in the path of his hammer.
Benedikt did as he was told. The White Flowers working on this wardrobe seemed a rumbling cauldron of activity, throwing instructions at each other until their voices overlapped, comfortable in their routine. Benedikt had not lived in this house for years, and so he recognized none of the faces around him. There weren’t many Montagovs left in this household, only White Flowers who paid rent.
Really, there weren’t many Montagovs at all. Benedikt, Roma, and Alisa were the last of the line.
Benedikt’s eyes flickered up. The White Flower closest to him—while the others were arguing about which way the nail went in—offered a wan smile.
“You have my condolences,” he said quietly. “I heard about your friend.”
His friend. Benedikt bit his tongue. He knew little of those in this household, but he supposed they knew of him. The curse of the Montagov name. What was it that Marshall had said? There’s a plague on both your damn houses. A plague that ate away at everything they were.
“It is the way of the blood feud,” Benedikt managed.
“Yes,” the White Flower said. “I suppose it is.”
Another panel was hammered in. They tightened the hinges, jiggled about the boards. As soon as the wardrobe was standing on its own, Benedikt excused himself, letting the others continue with their task. He backed out from the room and wound along the floor, walking until he found himself in a vacant sitting room. Only there did he lean against the fraying wallpaper, his head going light, his vision flooding with absolute white. His breath came out in one long wheeze.
I heard about your friend.
So why couldn’t he mourn his friend like others had? Why couldn’t he keep going like Roma had? Why was he still so stuck?
Benedikt thudded his fist hard against the wall.
Sometimes, Benedikt was half-convinced there was someone else’s voice in his head: a miniature invader relentless against his ear. Poets spoke of internal monologues, but they were supposed to be nothing save metaphors, so why was his so loud? Why could he not shut himself up when it was just him?
“. . . non?”
An unfamiliar murmur floated along the hallway then, and Benedikt’s eyes snapped open, his mind silencing at once. It seemed he couldn’t shut himself up, but oddities in his surroundings certainly could.
Benedikt surged out from the sitting room, his brow furrowing. The murmur had sounded feminine . . . and nervous. He knew he was out of touch with the White Flowers, but who in the gang fit that description?
“Alisa?” he called hesitantly.
His footsteps padded down the hallway, hands trailing across the banisters erected along an awkward staircase that went into a half story between the second and third. Benedikt kept walking, until he came upon a door that had been left slightly ajar. If memory proved correct, there was another sitting room on the other side.
He pressed his ear to the wood. He had not misheard. There was a Frenchwoman in there, mumbling incoherently, as if she were in tears.
“Hello?” he called, knocking on the door.
Immediately, the door slammed closed.
Benedikt jolted back, his eyes wide. “Hey! What gives?”
“Mind your business, Montagov. This does not concern you.”
That voice was familiar. Benedikt pounded his fist on the door for a few seconds more before a name clicked in place.
“Dimitri Petrovich Voronin!” he called. “Open this door right now.”
“For the last time—”
“I will kick it down. So help me, I swear I will!”
The door flung open. Benedikt barged in, looking around for the source of the mystery. He found only a table of European men playing poker. They all stared at him with annoyance, some putting their cards down. Others folded their arms, sleeves crossed over the white handkerchiefs poking from the chest pocket of their suit jackets. Merchants, or bankers, or ministers—it didn’t matter; they were allied with the White Flowers.
Benedikt blinked, puzzled. “I heard crying,” he said.
“You misheard,” Dimitri replied, in English. Perhaps it was for the benefit of the foreigners at the table.
“There was a woman,” Benedikt insisted, his jaw clenching hard, remaining in Russian. “A crying Frenchwoman.”
Dimitri, lifting the corner of his mouth, pointed to the radio in the corner. His shock of black hair whipped after him as he spun and adjusted the volume, until the speakers were loudly running a program in the middle of a play. Indeed, there was a Frenchwoman reading her lines.
“You misheard,” he said again, walking toward Benedikt. He didn’t stop until he was right in front of him, placing his hands on his shoulders. Benedikt was about as close to Dimitri as Roma was: not very. This manhandling was hardly fitting for a fellow White Flower, and yet Dimitri had no qualms with pushing Benedikt toward the door.
“I don’t know what you have going on,” Benedikt warned, staggering to the entranceway, “but I am monitoring your funny business.”
Dimitri dropped his smile. When he finally switched to Russian for his response, it was as if a change had come over him, a look of complete scorn marring his expression.
“The only funny business,” he hissed, “is that I am maintaining our connections. So do not butt in.”
Fast as the fury came, it was gone again. Dimitri leaned in suddenly and feigned placing an exaggerated kiss on Benedikt’s cheek, the way that relatives sent off children. A chmoc! echoed through the room before Benedikt grunted in indignation and shoved Dimitri aside, shoved his hands off of him.
Dimitri was hardly fazed. He smiled, and returning to English, commanded, “Now, run along and play.”
The door slammed closed.
Excerpted from Our Violent Ends, copyright © 2021 by Chloe Gong.