The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is the latest novel from Mackenzi Lee and is honestly the most fun book I have read in quite some time. When I first found out about it, I was enticed by the idea of the queer romance set in the 18th century, and was so pleased to find out it was so much more than just that.
The main cast consists of three characters: Monty, Percy, and Felicity. Monty is our king of the castle as he is also our narrator, and he is sassy, crass, and really an all around hot mess. However, he is flawed and knows it, and doesn’t blame his flaws on other people. He’s the picture of the perfect life, but has truly had a tough go of things especially considering his fairly open bisexual proclivities and alcoholic tendencies. Percy, Monty’s best mate and love interest, pleasantly surprised me as not only is he gay, he is biracial in a time where I never really thought about early forms of racism and slavery. Percy is not a slave, having been a bastard born into a wealthy family, but he is still often treated as lesser and even turned away from some establishments because of his skin colour. Percy is lovely and sweet and intelligent, and overall a very likable character. Finally, Felicity took some getting used to. When she is introduced at the beginning of the novel, she is petulant, rude, and annoying, however Felicity slowly comes into herself as an intelligent young woman who is simply annoyed at the predicament she is trapped in simply for being female.
The three characters are all so different, and each has their flaws that make all of them unlikable at times. I know that might sound like a bad thing, but I prefer to see flawed characters be rounded and real. And real people aren’t likable 100% of the time.
As I mentioned, I bought this book for the gay romance but devoured it in a week for the adventure. It’s an exciting trip across Europe with robbers and pirates and alchemy, none of which I really expected to find. But let’s break it down a little.
The romance story is a slow burn between Monty and Percy. Their banter is flirty, their friendship is intimate, and the both of them are morons when it comes to actually discussing their feelings. Monty may be bisexual, but he’s also a big gay nerd (for honest lack of another phrase) in a way that’s so funny and so sweet as well as infuriating. Having the story told in first person really lets us as the reader be a part of every single emotion that Monty is struggling with which makes it even better. It is definitely the kind of romance that makes one yell at the book in hopes the characters will smarten up while also being soft, gay, and lovely.
The adventure moves fairly quickly across Europe as our trio of characters get into a whole slew of trouble. Highwaymen, pirates, corrupt government officials, and violent alchemists, a hunt for a Philosopher’s Stone type of treasure to cure Percy’s secret ailment, Monty is saddled with a lot on top of his struggles with Percy. It was exciting to see the three of them grow as they keep getting kicked and kicked while they’re down, only to come back stronger and more united. Through this adventure, they also have to deal with the racism that is so prevalent in Europe. Ships won’t take Percy because he is a free, black man. Inns won’t take Percy because he might bring about trouble “his kind” causes. Even the black pirates are cautious about him as his interracial status leaves him in a cultural no-man’s land. The way this subplot is constantly present amid their travels is upsetting in a way that it should be for white readers such as myself. The captain of the pirate ship just wants to sail, but can’t without constantly being harassed by officials or forced to pretend a white man has control of his every move.
I had very few notes with this book, because it was so lighthearted and fun that it was just a nice easy read for me. The only two things I noticed were that the book was a touch long in my opinion, and that there were a few loose ends. Note that this is where only two spoilers will appear.
When it came to length, there were a few parts that felt like they dragged on. Dealing with the pirates, their stay with the Robles, and even the arrest in Venice felt like they took too long to get to the point. However, there were still loose ends. We never really found out what happened with Dante or even the bear-leader (who was the only character who was so dull and boring that I can’t even remember his name). I know getting away from their chaperone was the point all along, but it would have been interesting to at least see the man one more time before Monty and company buggered off to the other side of France.
At the end of the day, these are nitpick problems and really don’t matter. The majority of the book was amazing and full of topics that really need to be discussed such as race and chronic illness (ie. Percy’s epilepsy).
All in all, I give this book 5 out of 5. It was fun, sweet, and entertaining with respectfully shown conflicts of race and class. I loved the characters with all their flaws. I enjoyed the slow burn romance. I had fun being taken on an adventure across 18th century Europe.
Mackenzi Lee does a wonderful job of mixing the love story in with an adventure that not only takes a physical toll of her characters, but also changes them entirely by the end of the book. Monty is one of the few characters who I love to death while also wanting to strangle him for being ignorant and Lee has done such a good job balancing him out to keep him so completely real.
Sure, 513 pages is a little on the long side, but that didn’t stop me from reading it within a week and loving every last sentence.
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Published: June 27th 2017
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Synopsis: 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.