Content warnings: blood, violence, murder, weapon use, needles, description of human experimentation, descriptions of war, descriptions of head injury.
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, but I was already intending on buying this book. Specifically the pretty Waterstones edition with the pink foil cover.
Foul Lady Fortune is the first book in Chloe Gong’s new duology following an ill-matched pair of spies posing as a married couple to investigate a series of brutal murders in 1930s Shanghai. It is a speculative historical thriller inspired by Shakespeare’s As You Like It and can also be pitched as a Chinese period drama meets a Marvel movie. The author says you can read this book without reading the original These Violent Delights duology as all the events that have already happened are explained in the text, but I think not reading those books first will negatively affect your reading experience.
This book reunites us with Rosalind Lang, Celia Lang, and Alisa Montagova, all three of which were some of my favourite characters in the These Violent Delights duology. We’re also introduced to a lot of new characters: the secretive playboy middle child Orion Hong, the duty-driven eldest Oliver Hong, and the chaotic gremlin little sister Phoebe Hong, and I am obsessed with all of them. Their backstories are just as complex and compelling as all of the familiar characters and I was drawn in any time they appeared on the page.
At the heart of the enormous cast, Foul Lady Fortune is about Rosalind. I’m being honest when I say that I wasn’t overly interested in her character in the original duology, but in this book she’s bitter and prickly and is prone to running away instead of facing the world, and I love her so much more for how hard she tries anyway. She’s developed from a person broken by love and has sworn it off to someone who has learned to love and trust again. Rosalind is also demisexual and her narration explores this briefly on the page, but the term is not used in the book as it had not been invented yet.
The fake marriage was not originally a selling point for me for this book, but I am now in love with Rosalind and Orion’s relationship. They have the grumpy girl/sunshine boy dynamic and I am obsessed. The chemistry and banter were immediate, and the romance aspect was so incredibly slow-burn, almost to the last minute. I appreciated this as I could truly believe that the characters genuinely disliked each other at the beginning and cared for each other at the end. The relationship – both the fake and real side – felt authentic and believable to me.
I think that the description for this book gave me different expectations for the content. Rosalind being an immortal assassin almost feels… insignificant in comparison to the main storyline of the book and all of the other events that take place throughout the plot. She was in the middle of a mission as Fortune in the opening chapter and I was enthralled from the first sentence, but no other scene in the book captured or recreated this thrill for me. I was very invested in her using her assassin abilities for redemption. I was less invested when her abilities took a backseat to the main plot. The sleepless nights of sitting at home and being told she looked young for her age got repetitive for me after a while.
I’m also not overly fond of how the author incorporates plot twists: they arrive 95% of the way into the book and feel like they come out of nowhere with no previous scenes to support them, completely unravelling the mastery of her plots and characters (for me). I am one of those readers who love guessing and figuring out plot twists when the author lays the foundation for them throughout the book, and being blindsided by one takes away a lot of my enjoyment.
Overall, I would say that this book is an excellent continuation of the world and characters we met in These Violent Delights, and it will be widely adored by Chloe Gong’s current readers.
Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5 stars)