Courtesy of Margaret K. McElderry Books

November 10, 2022

The Fantastic Tale of ‘Foul Lady Fortune’

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It’s 1931 in Shanghai, and assassin Rosalind Lang is not happy with her newest assignment. She’s the main protagonist of author Chloe Gong’s newest book Foul Lady Fortune, with plenty of secrets to hide and complaints to voice. Her country is caught in the midst of a civil war as well as an imperialist invasion, and she has just been assigned the joint codename High Tide. The flirtatious other half of this operation is fellow agent Orion Hong, and the pair are tasked with investigating a series of murders under the guise of being a married couple. There’s just one small problem with this plan: the two can’t seem to get along.

Foul Lady Fortune is the highly-anticipated follow-up to Gong’s previous series, These Violent Delights, with Rosalind being the cousin of Gong’s first protagonist, Juliette Cai. Whereas the These Violent Delights duology was inspired by Romeo and Juliet, Foul Lady Fortune is loosely based off of the comedy As You Like It, with Rosalind and Orion taking on the roles of Shakespeare’s Rosalind and Orlando. Appropriately, Gong places a stronger emphasis on humor in her new series — Rosalind and Orion’s relationship is a disastrous blend of distrust and belligerent cooperation. 

Nevertheless, there are stylistic similarities between the two series. Once again Gong experiments boldly with the border between fantasy and historical truth, stitching the reality of 1930s Shanghai into genres like noir mystery and science fiction. It’s certainly a risk, especially when the consequences of such events are still sensitive subjects today. Even readers who are unfamiliar with Imperial Japanese policies or the nationalist and communist conflict in China will be able to pick up on the severity of these political tensions. It’s clear that Gong has made an effort to tastefully navigate these topics from a modern perspective, without being overly preachy or holier-than-thou. Contemporary issues of representation are also casually addressed, with most of the main cast being East Asian as well as LGBTQ+. 

Gong also reuses her strategy of rotating chapters between narrators, so that the story is told not only by Rosalind, but also by Orion and their respective families. I especially enjoyed the sections narrated by Phoebe, Orion’s flippant younger sister who desires nothing more than to be a spy. While Rosalind’s chapters are dark and intense, Phoebe’s are filled with mischief; likewise, each narrator has a unique voice that mirrors their personality, adding to the overall liveliness of the novel. 

Even apart from their roles as narrators, the two leads are deeply compelling. Rosalind is genuinely flawed and plausibly powerful, and the transformation of her dynamic with Orion is entertaining to read about regardless of who’s narrating. The two carry both an immense amount of burdens, and, despite their bickering, admiration for each other. Their relationship is far from smooth, but it is a pleasant change of pace from the unhealthy power dynamics and toxic behavior perpetuated by similar YA romances. 

In summary, Foul Lady Fortune has everything it promised— humor, mystery, romance, a jaw-dropping ending and a sequel on the way. From elegant metaphors to drastic tone shifts even within the same chapter, Gong’s prose is a delight to read and is sure to attract both new and returning readers. 

Yunoo Kim is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].