by Mackenzi Lee
Published 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
528 pages. DRC
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way.
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. [Goodreads]
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.
Witty, romantic, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a sumptuous romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.
Monty is perfectly flawed. He’s the kind of character that manages to be likeable (though that’s not a requirement) while making terrible decisions. When the novel begins, Monty is a privileged, white, English peer who doesn’t understand how his actions affect those around him. He has his own struggles, of course. He just happens to be incredibly self-centered; I imagine many English peers were (are?). I think his love for Percy is what truly pulled me in. Percy is his biracial best friend being raised as a gentleman by his aunt and uncle. Monty has known Percy almost his whole life and he’s secretly in love with him. Percy is mild-mannered and has lived his entire life understanding exactly where white Englishmen think he belongs. The two of them balance each other well. Monty’s sister, Felicity, is possibly my favorite character and the voice of reason during their adventure. She’s a feminist force to be reckoned with. Monty’s growth throughout the book is really due to Percy and Felicity.
I’ve read this book twice since I got my DRC in January and I found it to be incredibly fast-paced both times. It has the flow of many of the adventurous historical romances I’ve read. When Monty isn’t getting everyone into life-threatening danger, his relationship with Percy is heating up or hanging by a thread. It’s the kind of book that’s difficult to put down so I didn’t until I finished it.
I love historical novels and historical romance and I clearly gravitate toward queer books. This was like a combination of all the things I love, plus some. There is a romance that isn’t central to the story, but made my heart melt on numerous occasions. There’s an awesome feminist girl who ends up being the most capable member of their entourage. There are fantastical elements involving alchemy. There’s an adventurous manhunt. There are pirates that explain the atrocious race-relations of the time to Monty! What more could a girl want? It’s not exactly a believable story, but it’s well-researched and it works. Most of the historical elements are authentic. Monty’s bisexuality (though obviously not called that) is something that is a constant danger to him and his family if he is caught with a boy. Percy’s character is loosely based on Dido Belle. Felicity’s inability to get the kind of education she really wants because she’s a girl was a reality for all women at the time. There are some elements I can’t even mention because they’re spoilers. It all felt very authentic to me.
The novel is narrated from Monty’s first-person perspective. I think this goes a long way in endearing him to the reader. He is constantly making terrible decisions and disregarding others’ feelings. From the outside, it can seem like he’s a narcissistic jerk who just doesn’t care about anyone else. From his own point of view, you start to see some of the misguided motivations. While he’s a had an easy life, he’s dealing with a few of his own demons. Being a teen with a spontaneous personality means he has a tendency to make the wrong decisions. It helps that the reader gets to see what’s going through his head beforehand and see him grapple with them afterwards. He’s charming, witty, and a bit of a mess and it all comes through in the voice.
While I’m definitely going to buy this for my own bookshelf, I’m not sure that I’m going to buy this for my library. This is the kind of book that rings all the right bells for me but I can’t think of many of my teens that would pick it up. My school’s population isn’t really into historical fiction, even if it’s an element of a genre mashup book like this one. It seems like a hard sell to my school community. There are some content concerns if that’s a thing you pay attention to. Monty is a bit of a rake, so there is some sexual content (though not much) and there are several sexual references throughout the book. Monty is also a bit of an alcoholic so there is some teenage drinking, though I imagine that’s historically accurate. I think these are small concerns, and I wouldn’t think twice about handing it to a kid if I though it was the right book for them. Clearly, I think it’s a fantastic book since I read it twice! If you know anyone who enjoys historical romances, this would be good since it has similar pacing and some of the same story elements. If you know anyone who loves a fast-paced adventure story, this might be a great fit for them. If you know any queer YA fans, recommend this immediately. This book is out today so go grab a copy!
Now, I cannot end this post without mentioning that Felicity is getting her own book! I must have it! It comes out next year and it’s called The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. The second that hits Edelweiss, I’m going to be all over it.
This book counts toward my New Release Challenge.