Foul Lady Fortune begins with an assassination on a train ride.

Rosalind Liang — codename Fortune — spends her days as an assassin undertaking dangerous missions on the regular. With her strange ability to rapidly recover from most bodily injuries, Rosalind acts in service to the Nationalists who hold control over Shanghai in 1931. Every mission she is given, she succeeds. The rumors of an immortal assassin among the Nationalists’ ranks strike fear in their enemies.

One day, she gets assigned a most unusual new mission: to take on the role of a spy, pretend to be married to another Nationalist agent named Orion Hong, and together, uncover a string of murders potentially orchestrated by Japanese imperialists.

As a spin-off to Chloe Gong’s Romeo and Juliet-inspired duology These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends, Foul Lady Fortune uses familiar characters from that series, and the premises of its story build directly off the aftermath of the two books that came before it. Reading those books is not necessary to start this one, but they certainly help with getting quickly acquainted in the stage Gong has built.

In this novel’s world, Shanghai has just recovered from the fallout between two rival gangs, the White Flowers and the Scarlet Gang. But the city remains a boiling point of opposition: between the Nationalists and the Communists, between the everyday citizens and the looming threat of invasion by the Japanese imperial army.

At the center of its story is Rosalind, who struggles to atone for her past, and Orion, who faces an uphill battle as he tries to convince those around him that his father isn’t a traitor — a collaborator to the Japanese imperial front. Both agents act for the sake of their own self-interest, and their reactions to each other are immediate. Rosalind is repelled by her faux husband’s teasing nature, while Orion’s curiosity in his designated partner increases with every moment she spurns him away.

As Rosalind and Orion weave their way in and out of the city they call home, Gong paints a picture of Shanghai so vivid in its depiction that every scene evokes a clear, cinematographic sense. Through prose that knows when to add flourish and dive deep as much as it knows when to retract and stay curt, Foul Lady Fortune excels at maintaining its tension and mystery throughout its 500-odd pages.

Meanwhile, the slow burn of Rosalind and Orion’s relationship truly anchors the story into something great. In every scene together, there’s a palpable dynamic of something tense and yearnful, yet fragile enough that both parties hesitate from fully expressing their true feelings, lest it all falls apart. They’re great contrasts to each other. On one hand, there’s Rosalind — menacing and fierce, yet tender underneath. On the other, there’s Orion — easygoing and playful, but hardened when pushed. For as interesting as the principal mystery is, it’s the romance between these spies as they play around the confines of their faux marriage that makes for an entertaining ride throughout the story.

By no means does the romance central to Foul Lady Fortune make it a fluff read, though. The novel dives into interesting questions about how we as individuals are meant to walk our own paths in life when external forces — family, society — prevent us. Moreover, Rosalind’s story asks how are we meant to hold trust with one another, especially if we’ve been burned before in the past. By wrapping these ideas up in a spy thriller (a genre that inherently grapples with ideas of duplicity, tenuous bonds, and life in the shadows), the question of whether showing vulnerability can be its own strength is explored to great effect.

A fair warning. This story’s ending will have its readers eager for a sequel. As I turned the page to its final plot twist, I felt desperate to know more; I wanted to stay in this world and watch as its mysteries unraveled. Foul Heart Huntsman, out later this year, wraps up this series on life, love, betrayal, and devotion that Gong started with These Violent Delights in 2020. If this book is any indication, the grand finale to Rosalind and Orion’s journey together will be exciting to witness. 

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