Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Genre: Historical YA, Romance
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: June 27 2017
Hardcover: 513 Pages
Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.
But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.
Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.
Standalone or Series: Stand alone but with a companion novel – featuring Felicity and pirates – already in the works.
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Ecopy
This book. This book. THIS. BOOK.
IS DELIGHTFUL. And filled with characters that are Beautiful Cinnamon Rolls Too Good For This World, Too Pure.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is about Monty, the son of a gentleman Viscount. Monty is a charming, clueless rake and a rogue who has been expelled from Eton, tends to drink a lot and give in to his passions for boys and girls, who has been given a last chance of having fun before he settles in to take over his family’s estate upon his return from a one year journey to Europe. With him: his best friend Percy, whom Monty has been sprouting an annoying, unrequited crush for; and his annoying, know-it-all little sister Felicity, on her way to joining a finishing school for girls.
About three friends who embark on the Grand Tour of Europe in the late 18th century and have spectacularly dangerous adventures filled with highwaymen and pirates, an adventure that takes them from France to Spain to Italy to Greece, on a quest to find a mystical alchemic object and also, love and freedom.
Most of all: it’s about a white privileged gentleman’s son on a journey to awareness, his mixed-race chronically ill love, and his sister Felicity, who happens to be a budding feminist genius doctor fighting the patriarchy.
It is possible that I am failing to convey just how truly wonderful and delightful this book is. It has so much depth and layers.
For example: this a great example of a first person narrative. The novel is solely from Monty’s perspective and his voice is funny, hilarious, charming and genuine. And at times, as the voice of a rich white man in the late 18th century, also incredibly clueless, hurtful and self-centred. It feels very, very real. Not only because it highlights his privileges and the way he faces them (or not) when called out by Percy and Felicity. It is also a deceptively light narrative as Monty has other identities that clash with that of being a rich white male: he is bisexual in a society that doesn’t accept it, he is the son of an abusive father that has tried to beat the bi out of him and he also experiences very clear post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus, this book is also a beautiful showcase for multidimensional characterisation and identities. Most of all, what makes it even more real for me, is that Monty has a very specific arc of facing the parts of his life that are wholly privileged (especially in comparison to Percy and Felicity) but in no way does this book shows this is a finished arc. By the end of the novel, we know that Monty is experiencing the beginning of awakening but his journey is far from over. It’s a good thing that he has the calm, cooler heads of Percy and Felicity around him at all times.
It’s just such an accomplished novel. One moment, you are laughing because Monty has thought some cowardly ridiculous thoughts, the next thing you know, you are crying because he is anything but a coward and just runs into danger despite his fears and his insecurities. One moment your heart is breaking because Percy has a chronic illness in a century that doesn’t understand that, which means his future is bleak but then he says something earnest and true and your heart twists and melt. There is anger over how people treat Percy, the next moment you are bawling over the generosity of some of the characters, including Percy himself, who deserves a medal for sainthood and patience. One moment, you are scared of pirates, the next moment you are rooting for them. One moment Felicity is a quiet little thing because this is from Monty’s perspective and just as his views of his sister change, the more she grows into herself and into the narrative. It is brilliantly well done and so, so wonderfully romantic.
I might have some reservations about the small amount of actual magic (is this novel speculative fiction then? I am not sure it isn’t) that comes out of the blue in the middle of it – but perhaps that small amount of magic is exactly what is needed for us to believe the happy, romantic ending of this novel is not only possible but also everlasting.
Rating: 9 – Damn near perfect
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