Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Imprint: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Genre: Adventure, Historical Fiction, LGBT+, Young Adult
Blurb from Goodreads:
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.
Finally! Finally, a YA book I could shamelessly give my five star rating to! Because here’s a book that hits all the right notes. Everything came to me as a brilliant surprise. I guess it help that I didn’t read the blurb or any reviews before going into this book. I just checked its average rating and it was high enough that I decided to go for it. Which is a damn good decision, I think. There’s always an added magic to reading a book with completely no hint of what it offers. Just like the characters, I’m oblivious to what would happen next and somehow that gives a “part of the gang” vibes. Like I’m in this adventure with them and knowing only the things they knew. Of course I’m only speaking based on my experience but if you do want to go into this blind, stop reading this now because I’ll be gushing about this book in the next minutes.
Love may be a grand thing, but goddamn if it doesn’t take up more than its fair share of space inside a man.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is everything I could ask for in a historical fiction. It is adventure-filled. It is populated with very diverse characters. It talks about diverse subjects. There’s also a tiny speck of magic in it. And it is abso-bloody-lutely rib-tickling! This one is oozing with humor. The last time a book has made me laugh like this was My Lady Jane and it felt like ages ago. It doesn’t often happen that a book finds and tickles my funny bone but this one did! By far this is the best read I’ve had for 2017. This is the book to beat, YA!
The writing is so authentic. Simple yet vivid. It’s concise but without losing the hook that pulls readers back in time in 17th century. So we have a book with an intricate plot, filled with humor and delightful characters, and delivered in a style that was so easy to glide through—the perfect ingredients for a perfect read. Of course I was easily lost in it’s pages and completely sucked in.
Despite the 17th century setting the book dances around some rather modern topics like racism, bisexuality, ableism, and sexism. And it’s all handled thoughtfully and with respect. It’s not everyday that we see diversity in this genre so this one is really interesting and refreshing. Also, it’s impressive how the author brought all these topics together in one place without making the book too serious and too heavy to read. The drama, the action, the romance, and the humor were all balanced seamlessly. That’s one major thing I like about this book—nothing was done in excess. What 17th century looks and feels like was so vividly painted but not to the point that it takes up a lot of space in the book. Everything was given to us in equal parts. Obviously Mackenzi Lee is an author who knows her stuff.
“We’re not courting trouble,” I say. “Flirting with it, at most.”
This book is packed with an adventure that I didn’t see coming. Monty and Percy were supposed to have the best year of their lives as they travel across Europe for their Grand Tour. But not even halfway through their itinerary, they—along with Monty’s younger sister, Felicity—found themselves deeply involved in a cure-all hunt that they did not wish to get entangled in. What was supposed to be an exciting tour quickly became an unforgettable nightmare as the three of them were suddenly being chased by highwaymen, caught by pirates, and got themselves enmeshed in other people’s dangerous secrets.
The characters all felt human and real. They’re flawed and far from perfect. Monty, for one, is not your typical gentleman with smooth and glossy image. He is unruly with a devil-may-care attitude. He’s a bit of a rascal. He gambles. He has a drinking problem. He almost always hookup with women… or men, and he is unapologetic about it. But he is a character that I couldn’t really hate despite all that. Because he is more than just a person with a lot of vices. I think Lee has done a bang-up job in showing us Monty’s wild side and his shortcomings while at the same time showcasing the goodness in him. He isn’t just this privileged, self-centered, son of an Earl but he is also a good friend and he always has good intentions although most of the times it comes out wrong from his mouth. I particularly loved the friendship Monty has with Percy. It all felt real and natural to me. Not pretentious and not forced. I just love how the humor flaws between their conversations which only shows how comfortable they are with each other.
God bless the book people for their boundless knowledge absorbed from having words instead of friends.
My favorite character in this book would be Felicity. Without a doubt. She’s probably not a character you’ll love right away. I find her a bit detached at first. But the girl was such a surprise to me and to her companions. I love how her personality shows piece by piece until we get to know her. She’s bold, brave, and intelligent. Being the only one in the group who can still think straight in the middle of a difficult situation makes her really admirable. Also I totally admire her not giving a shit about the standards that society sets for women.
The great tragic love story of Percy and me is neither great nor truly a love story, and is tragic only for its single-sidedness. It is also not an epic monolith that has plagued me since boyhood, as might be expected. Rather, it is simply the tale of how two people can be important to each other their whole lives, and then, one morning, quite without meaning to, one of them wakes to find that importance has been magnified into a sudden and intense desire to put his tongue in the other’s mouth.
And let’s not forget about the romance! It was tangible and very realistic. It was really slow burn but that didn’t stop me from boarding the Monty and Percy ship. I just love how these two can be themselves around each other without worrying about being judged. This is a romance that defies the society’s homosexual and racial prejudices. And I think we should have more of this kind of stories in historical fiction.
We are not broken things, neither of us is. We are cracked pottery mended with lacquer and flakes of gold, whole as we are, complete unto each other. Complete and worthy and so very loved.
I would happily recommend this book to everyone who’s looking for a lively and delightful read with some amusing historical romp, some insane adventure, a smidge of the impossible in the form of alchemy, witty banters, and diversity. I believe Mackenzi Lee took a road not many authors have taken in historical fiction, and handled it nicely. Yes, I’ll find a way to check out some of her pervious books. And yes, I’m so looking forward to read her future works too.