Chloe Gong, acclaimed as a New York Times Number One bestselling author, has garnered recognition for her young adult fantasy novels. With Immortal Longings, her inaugural foray into the realm of adult fiction, Gong continues to showcase her talent.
Every year thousands flock to San-Er, the dense capital twin cities of the Talin kingdom. Crowds are drawn by the palace's staging of lethal games. Those skilled in body-switching can vie in a fight to the death, the ultimate prize being untold riches. Princess Calla Tuoleimi, who ended her parents' lives to liberate Talin from her oppressive family, has kept hidden for five years. Her sole obstacle is her recluse uncle, King Kasa, whom she must confront to complete her mission. Aware that he honours the games' victor, Calla aims to secure her chance by emerging triumphant. Amid this backdrop emerges Anton Makusa, whose childhood love, Otta Avia, lies in a coma. Struggling with debt to keep her by paying her hospital fees, he sees one last hope in the games. Anton surprises Calla by suggesting an unexpected alliance, propelling them into a consuming partnership. Yet, as the games near their end, Calla faces a pivotal choice - her lover or her kingdom.
The world-building in the novel is unquestionably remarkable with its blend of intricate lore, dynamic social structures, and political complexities. Gong's talent shines as she vividly animates the bustling cities of San-Er, drawing readers into their captivating depths. The heart of Talin finds its embodiment in the dystopian core of San-Er, inspired by the 1990s Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong. This choice of setting adds a layer of intrigue and historical fascination to the narrative. Gong's adept depiction envelops the senses, from the palpable energy of congested streets to the tangible presence of tightly stacked buildings, all underscored by the undercurrent of destitution bred by rampant overpopulation. While King Kasa revels in opulence, his subjects bear the brunt of his neglect, with those unable to meet taxation demands facing dire consequences. Similarly, the magic system, centred around the concept of qi and the intriguing practice of body-switching, adds an extra layer of fascination to the novel. All in all, Gong creates an immersive experience from the very first page.
Additionally, the character dynamics in the story were an unexpected delight, as they exude a compelling air of enigma, moral ambiguity, and unapologetic brutality. Calla emerges as a formidable character, wielding ferocity and ruthlessness in her unwavering quest to dismantle the monarchy that grips the kingdom. However, Anton presents formidable competition, propelled by a profound incentive to claim victory. Among Gong's protagonists, Calla is perhaps the most endearing of them all, with the tenacious grip she maintains on her convictions, the fervent blaze of indignation she carries for her world, and her unbridled ambition to etch her legacy on existence itself. With her sheer force of will and ruthless determination, she's a character who will prove impossible for readers to forget.
Overall, Chloe Gong masterfully intertwines intricate world-building, morally layered characters, and a riveting narrative in her debut adult novel Immortal Longings.