Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong

Review by Claudine Yip

Margaret K. McElderry Books, September 2022

528 pages, Hardcover, $25.99 CAD, 978-6659-0558-9

Ages 14+, Grades 9+

Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Poison was irrefutable. If there were others like her out there, they could take a blade to the throat, they could take a bullet to the gut, but poison would rot them from the inside out all the same. Her cells had been altered to knit together against any wound; they had not been altered to withstand a whole system collapse. Working with the only weapon that could kill her was a way of reminding herself that she was not immortal; no matter what the Nationalists said.

It was comforting, in its own strange way.

Ever since an experiment to save her life turned Rosalind Lang superhuman—immune to aging and able heal from any physical wound—the former gang member has tried to use her newfound powers to atone for past mistakes. In 1931 Shanghai, that means working as the Nationalist government’s personal assassin, targeting Communists who fight for power over the city while keeping an eye on the encroaching Japanese Imperial Army.

When a mysterious string of chemically induced murders occur, Rosalind receives a new assignment: infiltrate the Japanese newspaper company suspected to be at the heart of the operation, expose those responsible, and save Shanghai from Imperialist takeover. But unlike before, Rosalind won’t be working alone. The other half of her cover is a fake husband named Orion Hong: a young spy and full-time flirt. With the city Rosalind loves on the line, she agrees to team up, but Rosalind is determined to keep her true identity hidden.

Foul Lady Fortune is the first in a spin-off duology from Chloe Gong’s debut These Violent Delights duology, taking place four years after Shanghai’s gang-ruled streets crumbled and the Nationalist party picked up the pieces. Although many of the ghosts that haunt Rosalind throughout the novel come from events in the previous duology, both Rosalind and Shanghai’s pasts are fully fleshed out so that all are welcome to dive into the new story regardless of prior knowledge (though, readers also interested in reading the These Violent Delights duology should start there in order to avoid heavy spoilers). With the new decade also comes a new mystery, and Rosalind and Orion are nothing if not an entertaining pair. Not only do the two take on dance halls, car chases, and work events to pursue their mission—often to the tune of their own bickering—they must also share the vulnerable spaces of domestic life together to maintain their front, resulting in heart-fluttering, stolen pieces of time amid a dark and deadly mystery.

Although the narration is split between several characters, I remained most fascinated by Rosalind’s story, and in particular, her relationship with Shanghai—the home she almost destroyed for a fictive version of love. Now as Nationalist, Communist, and Imperialist factions all vie for control over a new version of Shanghai, Rosalind grieves the one she lost four years ago.

Simultaneously forceful and powerless, Rosalind becomes a captivating metaphor for the city’s changing landscape as she attempts to recover from the past despite being unable to escape it. Both girl and city don a supposedly stronger skin that can smooth over surface scars yet struggle to hold themselves together beyond the façade. Together, they cling to the new government that has reinvigorated their sense of purpose in desperate hope that they will finally find peace.

While Foul Lady Fortune is loosely based on Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It, the spy noir storyline, sci-fi and fantasy twists, and turbulent political backdrop all mark the novel as wholly distinct and highly entertaining. Above all, Foul Lady Fortune is a gripping exploration ofwhat home means when it’s in constant danger of upheaval and destruction. Fans of Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow will be delighted to have another speculative take on Chinese history to dive into with this ambitious and carefully woven story of intrigue and romance.

Claudine Yip is a recent BFA graduate who studied Creative Writing with an Art History minor at UBC. She is currently drafting her way through a YA contemporary novel and sporadically blogs about food as an excuse to post all the pictures she takes at bubble tea shops. Visit her at @cyieat on Instagram and @claudineyip on Twitter.

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