REVIEW: Immortal Longings by Chloe Gong

Chloe Gong rose to fame as the very young debut author of These Violent Delights, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in 1920s Shanghai. Clever and nuanced, she managed to weave themes of colonialism into her commercial YA novel. So when Immortal Longings, her adult debut loosely based on Shakespeare’s late tragedy Anthony and Cleopatra was announced, I was excited to see how her work would translate to a different audience. And while there is much to enjoy in Immortal Longings, the answer is unfortunately that it still feels very much like YA.

cover of Immortal LongingsSet in San-Er, the capital twin cities of the kingdom of Talin, we encounter our main characters as participants at a rather brutal variation of the Roman panem et circensem – bread and games. Those in Talin confident in their ability to jump between bodies enter in fights to the death in order to win riches beyond compare – Calla, for a chance to murder her uncle, King Kasa, and finish her mission to rid the world of her tyrannical family having killed her parents years earlier, and Anton, to save his childhood love, who has lain in a coma for years. The two enter an unlikely alliance – one that can only end in devastation.

A lot of the approach to YA – even in scholarship – is “you know it when you see it”. This soft definition makes it difficult to have a clear distinction, especially in a crossover space. With Immortal Longings, the characters may be slightly older than usual, but their concerns and behaviour still feels like that of YA characters. If that is something you struggle with, this may not be the book for you – else, read on, because this is very much a book that will appeal to a Grimdark audience. When we meet Calla, she’s been on the run for years after killing her parents for the greater good. In D&D terminology – because that lets me talk about this without spoiling the story – Calla is lawful evil. She lives according to her own code of law and morality, but very clearly acts in ways seen as despicable from the outside. While she is trying to do what she considers to be the right things, she is clearly doing harm, and I found her a really interesting character to follow through a story. I hope that we see her mature a bit more, and see different sides to her in the next installment of the series.

Immortal Longings is full of betrayal, complex characters and dubious morality. I really appreciated the subtleness of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra woven through. As the book is set in a futuristic secondary world, it took me quite a while to pick out the disparate elements and put them together into a narrative – which made Immortal Longings very fun to read. I did find that the pacing was a bit uneven, with the middle losing tension at times. The character arcs and the relationships between them felt a bit shallow, despite being set up with complex backstories that would have lent themselves to more depth. The story consistently confronted them with stakes higher than quite make sense given how they were portrayed. This – to me – added to the novel’s feeling like YA rather than adult, as it is a persistent trope of the category that the fate of the world is put on the shoulders of a handful of teenagers. While Immortal Longings didn’t read as discordant as many incumbents of the trope, it nevertheless drew on it – and drew on being part of this tradition.

So, while a very solid novel, Immortal Longings didn’t quite live up to the promise of ideas for me. It wasn’t quite mature enough to stand on its own feet, distinct from Chloe Gong’s YA work. I hope that the further books in the series will evolve and build on what did work well in Immortal Longings, and let her grow as a writer – because she has the right ideas and she can write. The ingredients are all there, it’s just not quite coming together yet. I’ll certainly be checking out the sequel to see how story and author have grown.

Read Immortal Longings by Chloe Gong

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.