Today, I’m reviewing one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of the year: Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong. As a huge, huge fan of These Violent Delights, I know I need everything Gong writes from now on in my life.
Thank you so much to Kate Keehan at Hodderscape for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This review originally appeared on The Nerd Daily.
It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and the stage is set for a new decade of intrigue.
Four years ago, Rosalind Lang was brought back from the brink of death, but the strange experiment that saved her also stopped her from sleeping and aging—and allows her to heal from any wound. In short, Rosalind cannot die. Now, desperate for redemption from her traitorous past, she uses her abilities as an assassin for her country.
Code name: Fortune.
But when the Japanese Imperial Army begins its invasion march, Rosalind’s mission pivots. A series of murders is causing unrest in Shanghai, and the Japanese are under suspicion. Rosalind’s new orders are to infiltrate foreign society and identify the culprits behind the terror plot before more of her people are killed.
To reduce suspicion, however, she must pose as the wife of another Nationalist spy, Orion Hong, and though Rosalind finds Orion’s cavalier attitude and playboy demeanor infuriating, she is willing to work with him for the greater good. But Orion has an agenda of his own, and Rosalind has secrets that she wants to keep buried. As they both attempt to unravel the conspiracy, the two spies soon find that there are deeper and more horrifying layers to this mystery than they ever imagined.
Publication Date: 27th September
TW: death, murder, gore, sexual harassment, abuse, torture, violence, blood, human experimentation
Chloe Gong knows exactly what she did.
Foul Lady Fortune is an absolute fireball of a book. This is an impeccably slick murder mystery entangled in the backstabbing, claustrophobic world of spies and political machinations.
It is important to note that this book can be read separately from the original duology. However, it does give away key plot spoilers for that duology and personally, I really appreciated all the little nods and hints to certain aspects of those books in this story. For me, it added that extra layer of depth, character work and world-building in order to fully comprehend the story being told.
This book totally consumed me and has stayed in my thoughts since. It transported me to 1930s Shanghai and the complex political machinations of various groups there. You are dropped into this shadowy world of spies, secret identities and constant betrayals. Right from the start, you know this book did not come to play. Gong drops one of the most menacing and chilling openings I have read for a while, setting the cold and calculating tone of the unseen forces manipulating much of the action. That mystery is clearly laid out and you can’t help but want to know more. This is an extremely intricate puzzle, with twists and turns that will leave you reeling.
I also loved how this is very much a book defined by its sprawling cast of characters. We meet so many brilliant figures, some familiar to readers of the These Violent Delights duology and some brand-new. Each has so many layers and nuance to them, with unspoken secrets and hints at different aspects of themselves. However, my clear standout was Rosalind Lang herself. Admittedly, she was not my favourite from the original series, but by about ten pages in here, I knew I would pledge my allegiance to her. She is such a wonderfully raw and fractured character, dealing with the ramifications of her choices and learning to come to terms with the exploitation and manipulation she endured. Her expertise in spying and assassination literally demonstrates how a reliance on superficial appearances will betray you and leave you vulnerable. Through her character, Gong emphasises how femininity is traditionally seen as weak and shallow, but this is utilised by Rosalind to her advantage. She is an extremely smart and world-weary character, shown best in the tight dialogue between her and Orion. Their relationship is so, so good. It has that natural build to it and the chemistry as they switch into different dynamics is sizzling. You find yourself rooting for them, but as ever with Chloe, not everything is as it seems.
This is a speculative historical thriller inspired by Shakespeare’s As You Like It and the way Chloe Gong brings in these real life events and meshes them with the fascinating magic system and world she has created is sublime. For example, the events referred to sometimes as the Manchurian Incident or 9.18 Incident form a central catalyst for the plot and this was something I immediately went to further research and educate myself. By integrating these mirrors of real-life events, Gong adds that touch of realism and intensifies this looming atmosphere of impending war and doom.
Right from the first page, you are wholeheartedly thrown straight into the action and it is difficult to draw breath from there on in. The plotting and atmosphere are superb. You genuinely do not know who to trust and can never fully untangle everyone’s true allegiances. In a world of deception and pretence, there was always going to be heartbreak and that is where Chloe truly excels. She has my whole heart and she crushes it with every book she writes. That ending was one of the best cliffhangers I have read for a while and shattered my spirit completely.
Foul Lady Fortune was one of those books that truly takes your breath away and leaves you scheming, theorising and obsessing. It is easily one of my favourite reads of the year.