Review: Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong

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 details: 27 September 2022, by Hodder & Stoughton. Review copy provided by the publisher

Rating: 3.5/5

Review

As a fan of what Chloe Gong did with the Romeo and Juliet source material in These Violent Delights, I was very excited for another Shakespeare-inspired story from her, returning to the chaotic stage of Shanghai. Foul Lady Fortune shares a lot with Gong’s first duology, including a number of minor characters who become bigger players this time round, but it does feel quite different in tone, and I’m not quite sure it always played to Gong’s strengths.

One of Gong’s strengths is definitely ramping up the tension and intrigue, and I will say straight up that the last 20% of this book redeemed a rather slow start and threw open a lot of new questions which mean I will most likely read the sequel. Gong also continues to do a fantastic job of bringing a city alive, and it was easy to feel like I was right there on the streets of Shanghai with the main characters, particularly once the action starts unfolding.

But Foul Lady Fortune is also a more political book than its predecessors, and in trying to balance that with a strangers-to-lovers romance, I felt like this book tried to do too much and too little at the same time. There are a lot of various subplots related to Chinese history at the time that were only briefly explained, and didn’t always seem related to what was going on in the characters’ lives – all of the character join various causes at points, but it’s never really clear that any of them have any strength of conviction or meaningful reason to be on one side or another except that the plot demands it.

The political manoeuvring also comes at the expense of character growth. Rosalind and Orion never felt like sympathetic, emotionally complex characters like Roma and Juliette did (even accounting for the fact that Rosalind is meant to be a more stoic character). There is so much happening on the political front that they are given very little time to process what is happening to them or reflect on the development of their relationship, so their romantic moments felt rather unearned when they arrived. There’s also limited development for the numerous side characters, which is a shame, especially since I was looking forward to getting to know some of them, particularly Alisa and Celia, both of whom intrigued me in the original series.

I’m pretty sure I’ll pick up the sequel just to see what happens next, and I will definitely keep an eye out for Gong’s other works – particularly those that seem more romance-oriented – I just wish I hadn’t struggled with the first half of this instalment quite so much so I could give a more positive review overall.

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