Author: Mackenzi Lee
Rating: 5 Stars
Dates read: 16 Apr 18 – 21 Apr 18
Publication date: 10 August 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, YA
A young bisexual British lord embarks on an unforgettable Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend/secret crush. An 18th-century romantic adventure for the modern age written by This Monstrous Thing author Mackenzi Lee—Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets the 1700s.
Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are 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.
So Monty 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, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.
Witty, dazzling, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is an irresistible romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.
I was told to read this book by my friend and housemate Emma, and many of the wider book blogging community. It’s about adventures, and pirates, and has a charismatic guy as the lead character, you’ll love it they said. I brushed them off for the longest time because it’s based in the past, and historically, historical fiction is not my bag. I bow to their greater knowledge, because this book was awesome!
The book centres around Henry Montague, Monty to his peers, and his friend Percy Newton, who are off on a grand tour of Europe before real life takes a hold. Accompanied by their guardian Lockwood, and Monty’s sister Felicity (whom they are supposed to be dropping at finishing school early on their route) they set out for Paris, Marseille, and Switzerland, and take some of the most entertaining detours one can imagine.
I’m going to start away from the main man himself, with Felicity. It’s rare that a novel gives a woman a brain, yet follows through with the limitations that being a woman with intelligence and academic leanings would bring. She is fiercely bright, unashamedly focused on excelling academically in a time that doesn’t encourage it, and doesn’t crumble under the intense pressures of kidnap, hostage taking, theft, emergency surgery, being on the run, and having a raucous adventure. She is undoubtedly the most observant of the characters in the novel, reading the relationship between Monty and Percy (one they don’t yet realise is present themselves) and has used these skills to navigate a world not made for her. She was definitely the third wheel of the tricycle that was the main trio, but nonetheless was important. I am already excited to read about her in the companion novel The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy.
Percy Newton is a man battling racial stigma in a world that is white. He is born in a high family with a black parent, and in regency times, having non-white skin does not indicate a high status in society. Never the less, Monty is his closest friend (if friendship is what you can call their uncommonly close bond) and he has had all the trappings of a high born son, with a side dose of racism at functions and dinners. As if racial profiling wasn’t the only stigma he had to battle, we learn earlyish on that Percy also suffers from epilepsy, an illness associated with demons, exorcism, and madness at the time. Throughout this, the otherwise attentive and stoic Percy is friendly and comfortable with Monty, and to a degree Felicity, and is the mid point and ground between the polar opposites of the Montague siblings.
Henry ‘Monty’ Montague. Where do we even begin with Monty? He is infectious in his want to cause mischief, have fun, and go along for the ride and the adventure. He is the ultimate cheeky chappy, and appears to have little awareness of anything other than his world, his riches, his life, and his enjoyment. He is self-aware and simultaneously self-deprecating and boastful. He uses his talents for flirting in the most shameless of ways, and is ready to talk his way into and then back out of any situation. He is somewhat blinded by his love for Percy (both platonic and romantic) and is secretly proud (or at least I think he is) or his sister and all that she is achieving. Monty is the epitome of regency riches, raucous romping, and is willing to have fun and adventure any which way he can with anybody willing to go along with him.
The story itself follows the European tour planned by Monty and Percy. The tour is posed to Monty’s family as their last chance to explore and have fun together before Monty learns the ropes of his family title and expectations and before Percy travels to ‘University’. Knowing all about their penchant for trouble, Monty’s father appoints a friend and guardian to oversee the pair and their finances, and Felicity tags along to make her way to finishing boarding school in the south of France.
It takes all of a few pages, and their first city to cause trouble, at the Palace of Versailles no less. Before long, Monty is hot footing it naked across the grounds, having bedded the wrong woman in the wrong room and taking the wrong souvenir from the wrong person. From there, they travel south, are intercepted by a highwayman team before moving from troublesome moments to difficult scenarios.
I really feel like this book is two-leveled, and therefore can be enjoyed for two reasons. If you’re into books detailing exploration, travel, and adventure, then you are going to love the tour from London, to Paris, to Marseille, to Barcelona, to Venice, to Santorini with lots of stops along they way. I have luckily visited some of the stops along the way, and will be seeing Barcelona later in the year, so it was enjoyable to follow the romp along a well trodden path through some of the most spectacular cities in Europe. Not to forget either is the changing methods of transport, from carriage to horses, chartered boats to pirate ships that make the travelling and the exploring that much more exciting.
If the travel element is not what gets you going, there is a complex array of emotions, relationships, and prejudices that are tackled head one throughout the novel. Racial profiling and judgement is prominent as Percy navigates the world of nobility and wealth in a time that didn’t embrace mixed race men as more than the help. There is an exploration into the effects of epilepsy on a young life, and the wider prejudice that is evoked by what was a little understood condition at the time. The book tackles feminism in a world where women were not expected or encouraged to pursue intellect and power, were not supposed to stand up for themselves and their beliefs, and certainly not go off gallivanting around Europe (even if it is with family). And of course there is the LGBTQ+ theme throughout the book. The relationship between Monty and Percy is clearly deep, complex, and incredibly blurred. Mackenzi Lee toes the line with making it believable of the time, and between the characters. In fact, Lee handles all of these complex and delicate storylines with finesse and interweaves them to create a deliciously addictive story.
I actually listened to the audiobook (as narrated by Christian Coulson of Tom Riddle/Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets fame) and adored the life and sass that Coulsen brought to the story, but mostly to Monty. Sometimes listening to an audiobook can detract from the process of imagining a setting or drawing conclusions about a character. This was not one of those occasions, and can say I am glad that I actually listened to the audiobook. Narrated by Christian Coulson (of Tom Riddle/Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets fame), the book is constantly alive, I adored the life and sass that Coulsen brought to the story, but mostly to Monty. He brings what is a great story to another level.
There is so much I could say about this book, but I don’t want to spoil what is a brilliant read. It’s a special book, and an amazing summertime read, I can’t recommend it highly enough.