The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
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Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Genre: Young adult, historical fiction, adventure, LGBT
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What It Is
Set in the 1700s, the story follows Henry Montague (“Monty”), his sister Felicity, and his best friend Percy, as they embark on their grand tour of the European continent. For Monty, this is going to be the last year before he’s forced to help run his father’s estate (a future that he is definitely not keen on) and, also, a year before Percy has to go off to Holland to attend school. Thus, it is supposed to be a year of parties, gambling, drinking, and romancing.
Things do not go as planned, however. In fact, things start going terribly, terribly wrong. They encounter highwaymen and pirates; conspiracies and alchemical cure-alls. The three of them end up having a tumultuous adventure, full of surprises and lucky escapes.
There’s another reason Monty is looking forward to his grand tour – he’s in love with Percy, only Percy doesn’t know it. Alongside the adventure story, we also get to watch the blossoming (and trials) of their relationship.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue deals with several heavy topics that give the book an added dimension. Most obviously, it deals with homosexuality in the 1700s, a time when people could be severely punished for the act. Percy is also bi-racial, and we witness how he gets treated by higher society, and the racism of that time period. There are also underlying themes of child abuse, chronic illness (Percy has epilepsy), and sexism (Felicity is prevented from going to several of the events that Percy and Monty are dragged to, even though she actually wants to go).
The book is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once, and has something for everyone, from fight scenes and romance, to swashbuckling and alchemy.
What I Loved
The relationship between Monty and Percy was spectacular. Every time they fought in the book, or something pulled them apart, I felt it in my heart. I was rooting for their romance throughout the whole book.
All of the main characters were so well-developed, and I really appreciated that in fiction. Despite Monty being self-absorbed, naive, and very spoiled, he’s still relatable. I found myself wanting him to succeed, even when he was making very terrible decisions. Although, at times, I also wanted to reach into the pages, grab him by the shoulders, and shake him whenever he did something spectacularly dumb. A large part of this book is his coming to terms with who he is and his realization of how others see him.
Percy is instantly loveable, and just a genuinely great friend. He puts up with Monty’s foolishness (to a point), and, even when they’re fighting, he’s still there to support him. One of the things that immediately pulled me into loving his character is that he carries around a violin he inherited from his deceased father. My mother died in 2010, and the loss of a parent and the role that their heirlooms play in your remembrance of them really resonated with me.
Then we get to Felicity, who is simply a badass. I can’t wait for the sequel, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, to be released, because it focuses on Felicity’s adventures after the end of The Gentleman’s Guide. Whenever Monty and Percy are panicking and unsure of how to proceed, Felicity comes to their rescue. She also took it upon herself to educate herself in science and medicine, which, due to the times and the feelings of her family, she otherwise would not have been allowed to study.
What I Disliked
This is hard. I spent a good twenty minutes trying to come up with something I could say in this section, but I have nothing. I suppose the only real thing I disliked was that it was too short. I wanted so much more. Luckily, there’s the sequel…
Buy! This was an incredibly fun book to read. I originally downloaded it for my Kindle, but before I was even finished with the book I purchased a physical copy from Amazon because I knew that this was a book I would be going back to several times.
Have you read The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue? What did you think?