A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Published by: HarperCollins
Genre: YA historical fantasy
Reviewed by: Moog
What to expect: Queer historical YA full of simmering heat, loads of pining, and an irascible main character you will both love and be exasperated by in equal measure.
Bonus: Check out our exclusive interview with Mackenzi Lee and enter to win a paperback ARC of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue!
Blurb: 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.
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.
Review: Okay, so I read this in one sitting. It got dark around me while I read this book. I looked up when I’d finished and the room was pitch black and I had legitimately just not noticed that happening. If you’re looking for one YA book to read this month – it’s this one.
Queer historical is my favourite genre bar none but I haven’t come across a lot of it in YA, so when I heard about A Gentleman’s Guide I basically tripped over my own feet trying to get hold of it. And it was wonderful!
A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue follows Monty (who I adored, and described in shrieking capslock to a friend as a bisexual pining rake disaster), his sister Felicity, and his best friend Percy as they embark on their grand tour and things do not quite go as planned. The relationship between cheerful, rakish Monty, and Percy “Only the Sensible One Comparatively” is the sweetest, sweetest thing. Monty has been slowly falling for Percy since they were children and, because he is charming but not always the most observant, isn’t sure whether Percy feels the same. The pining, you guys, The pining is top notch.
I think my favourite thing about Gentleman’s Guide is that everyone felt like a person. Like real people you could just accidentally meet if, say, you happened to be pwanged back in time to the 1800s rather than characters invented to make a book happen. There is a character with a chronic health condition that is treated as a character with a chronic health condition and not, say, a Health Condition with dialogue and/or noble platitudes a la Cousin Helen from What Katy Did. One character is an abuse survivor and it’s not treated like suffering is Good and Serves a Purpose, nor is it there for the sake of whomping a character (two of my least favourite tropes). When characters are in frightening situations, they are legitimately scared. There is a subtle and careful recovery arc throughout the book. This is a historical book with queer characters, but the story isn’t about their sexuality vs. contemporary opinion. The story is about characters caught up in a high stakes European road trip while also trying to deal with wanting to smooch the face off their best friend and those characters are also queer. It all adds up to everyone feeling real, believable, and interesting.
There’s a part in the book where Monty finds something out about Percy (I say, vaguely, attempting not to spoil anything at all while also commenting on a book HOO BOY HOW DO PEOPLE DO THIS?), promises he won’t react badly, and then proceeds to be incredibly annoying about it because he is worried and doesn’t deal well with emotional upset. I really loved that. We all hope that we are going to react well, or, like, honourably, if put into certain unexpected situations, and seeing a character react to one of these moments like… a person with flaws was one of my favourite bits of the whole book.
These are characters with lives and loves and pasts and interests and quirks, and Mackenzi Lee has such a talent of bringing a character to life in just a few lines. I was in love with Monty by the end of the first page, and all the side characters are so wonderful and vivid. I also particularly love Felicity, inquisitive scientist bestie of my heart, whose own book would be incredible. A+, would compare to a less stabby Anne Bonny again. Everyone I know must read this book too so I can corner them with love and make them tell me everything they thought about every single character! #friendship
I’ve talked a lot about relationship-building and character work but also there’s epic derring-do! Alchemy! There are pirates, you guys. There are chase scenes and hiding scenes and fight scenes, and the whole book rattles along like a stagecoach at high speed. Monty’s POV is perfect for this, romantic and funny and moving, and I would happily spend another billion books going along with him for the ride. I may have the ARC for this, but I want the hard copy too. No regrets, just book <3
Moog Florin is a writer, blogger, and lacker of balance. She lives in London with her wife (lovely) and an octopus (stuffed), and can be found blogging into the void about books, stickers, and queer romance at MM Florin Writes. You can also find Moog on Twitter: @MM_Florin