A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Publication date: 10 August 2017
Pages: 528 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review.
I was so desperate to get my hands on a copy of A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. When I finally spotted it in a UK bookstore, I snatched it off the shelf right away, and I’m so glad I did. While there was a ton of hype surrounding the publication of this book, I felt like it was well-deserved.
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.*
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see a great deal of historical fiction in the YA genre. When you can find it, it tends to be set in either Victorian England or World War II. For that reason alone, A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue stands out. However, this book is like a breath of fresh air, regardless of its time period. Not only does it feature an incredibly diverse cast of characters, it tackles a number of social issues. From sexuality to disability, A Gentleman’s Guide does not shy away from inclusiveness, nor the discrimination these characters face.
While there’s a lot of adventure in this book, it is a truly character-driven novel — much of the joy is in watching the characters develop and understand each other a little better. The story is told from Monty’s point of view, and we really see how he grows as a character. He starts the novel as an incredibly spoiled young man, but the reader get to know and understand him better.
Felicity and Percy are easily my favourite characters from the book though. Felicity is a character ripped straight out of the best historical romance novel. She’s a strong woman without being too stubborn to function, she’s incredibly clever, and she’s often the one doing the rescuing. Unlike many similarly strong ladies of YA, she doesn’t hinder the story with her pride and stubbornness. And Felicity lovers, rejoyce! The second book in the series will focus on her.
Percy is another fantastic character. He’s the one who struggles the most in their society, mostly due to the color of his skin. I really appreciated Lee including his disability — it is something you don’t often see portrayed in books (no spoilers here). Percy is a lovely and quieter, yet still fun-loving and ridiculous, foil to Monty’s loud, brash, and impulsive character. You can easily see why Monty has fallen so hard.
My only complaint about A Gentleman’s Guide is the inclusion of some fantasy elements. Now, this just comes down to personal tastes, but I prefer my historical fiction to be just that — historical fiction. The inclusion of alchemy, specifically alchemy that’s actually real, did dispel the magic of the time period for me. I would have preferred it to be much more grounded in reality — it was such a good book without that magical element. I also think it could have been a little shorter — the book is over 500 pages long! There were a few parts that dragged or didn’t feel necessary. By trimming it down, it would have been a much tighter narrative.
Overall, I really enjoyed this fun historical romp. More books like this, please!
You can buy a copy of A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue at the following (affiliate links):