The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee / ★★★★☆
Summary: Monty, a hopelessly roguish and vivacious young gentleman, leaves on his Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend, Percy, who he just so happens to be hopelessly in love with. When one of his reckless decisions leads to more trouble than he expects, he, Percy, and his sister Felicity find themselves pursued on a manhunt across Europe that could get them all killed.
Percy looks sideways at me. “Oh no what?”
I swallow. “I’d first like it to be noted that I am most certainly not a smuggler.”
“Monty…” he says, my name sopping with dread.
“And,” I continue overtop him, “I’d like you to both remember just how much you adore me and how dull and gloomy your lives would be without me in them.”
“What did you do?”
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Fiction/Romance
This book was so much FUN. I did not expect this book to be the harrowing adventure it was. It was the most fun I’d had reading a book in a while, and I raced through its 500+ pages in two days. I loved the way the author utilized the 18th century European setting and the way she made rather fantastical elements fit together. Most of all, I loved the characters.
I loved the romantic plotline between Monty and Percy. I loved how sweet and desperate it was, and how it was full of all sorts of missteps and miscommunications and cultural limitations to get through. Sometimes I find it hard to get attached to a romance in a standalone – I like romances to drag out the tension long and slow – and I was a little skeptical when we were introduced to Monty’s overt feelings in literally the first line of the book. It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t have to worry, though, and I thought the way the author structured it was done so well and I grew invested very quickly. It was very sweet and very fluffy and very frustrating and the tension Lee established was right up my ally.
Like I said, the plot was fully of crazy adventure, and I think a key reason I was able to enjoy it so much was that I went into this book fully prepared to suspend my disbelief, and I do think this book very much requires that. The plotline surrounding alchemy in particular did feel a bit shaky and I wasn’t quite sure what to make if it in a realistic sense, but I decided to adopt a rather “Disney movie” attitude toward it in my suspension of disbelief and accept it for what it was and not get too hung up on the details. Same with the pirates. I adopted a very Disney attitude for those guys.
My one main criticism for this book is that I did feel this book, set in the early 1700s, got a bit too 21st century preachy. I didn’t go into this book thinking it was going to be some raw depiction of history, and I didn’t want it to be, but it was when characters would start very obviously reciting 21st century lessons in morality that the plot would come to a screeching halt for me. They’d do their teaching, and then it would slowly start up again as I regained my bearings in the historical atmosphere. Obviously so much of how humans did things and perceived things in the past was not right or correct, but I do think there are ways of staying more culturally and historically relative and organic in these moments instead of forcing very 21st century voices into the mouths of some of these characters. I think it would have made the lessons learned in this book more poignant and universal for the time period rather than, “oh good, I’m glad Monty learned that, I can’t wait for everyone else to catch up in 300 years.” I appreciate them for what they are, don’t get me wrong, but the pointedness in some of the lessons of correctness grated at me at times.
I really did love this book, though, and had a blast reading it. It’s definitely some of the most fun I’ve had reading a book this year. I loved the adventure and the story, and most of all the romance. I was a sucker for it.
I loved these characters. Like, 90% of my love for this book is because of the characters.
I LOVE MONTY. I love him. Don’t get me wrong, he drove me wildly insane, but I loved him with all my heart. Monty is the privileged, erratic son of a English earl who does not quite appreciate his privilege, and he is such a fantastically flawed and very often unlikable character. He’s also a fantastically developed character, and as we see why he does not always appreciate – or want – some of his privileges or standings as an English gentleman, the book delves very deeply into issues that at first glance may be difficult to see in all his scandalous exuberance. I love a character who is so loud and vivacious on the outside while hurting so much on the inside, and I loved the enormous internal and external struggles and realizations he must face in his adventure to achieve his development. And I loved his wit. Monty cracked me up, he was a fantastic narrator.
Percy, Monty’s best friend, is lovely, and even though Monty came out my favorite, I fell for Percy first. He’s sweet and charming and intelligent, a bit of the calm to Monty’s storm, and a biracial Englishman from high society with other internal struggles lying underneath. I thought Lee portrayed the race issue well, especially coming to us through the eyes of Monty, who was often blind to such things. Monty’s struggle over what he wanted for Percy and what Percy wanted for himself was one of my favorite conflicts in the book. I do wish we’d gotten to go a little deeper with Percy’s interest in music, though.
And Felicity! Reading the summary of this book you would assume the book is all about Monty and Percy, when actually they’re part of an adventuring trio. Monty’s younger, intelligent sister is basically the Hermione to their Ron and Harry. While I liked her badass moments, I loved her softer moments of development with her brother, and I liked her interest in medicine. She – and Percy – were responsible for most of the “telling Monty what’s what” moments, but otherwise, she was a great inclusion in this book, though I do wish she had been a bit more flawed instead of merely pointing out the flaws of society that dictate her as a woman, which felt were a bit tropey at times. I know the book was less about her, and from Monty’s POV, but I think a bit more nuance to her character would have made me connect to her more. I wonder if some of this could have been balanced out by Helena, our other, less prominent, female character, but I wasn’t always clear on what her motives were or why she was acting the way she was acting, especially towards Monty. She and Dante were a little wishy-washy to me.
I thought the dialogue and interactions between characters was the strongest aspect of the writing of this book. It was sharp and witty and sweet, and so well done. Some of the more descriptive passages seemed a little less…flowy, at times (awkward seems like too strong of a word), but I still think the atmosphere and the settings of all the cities was lovely and established well. I do think that the last third of the book didn’t feel quite as neat as the preceding thirds, and some of the technical plotty things were a bit wobbly in their explanations, but overall it was a well executed book. And I loved how sweetly the romance was written. Some may say it was a bit too strong and overdone, but I was very much a fan. When it works for me, I fall into it headfirst.
Was I satisfied?
I was! This book was delightful and fun and I loved the adventure and the romance and I love Monty.