The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
by Mackenzie Lee
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Length: 528 pages
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Obtained Via: I received a free advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for consideration of an honest review.
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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.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was a delightful adventure from beginning to end, and never have 500 pages felt so short. I could have read about Monty, Percy, and Felicity’s adventures forever. Monty sets off on his grand tour of Europe, his last hurrah before he has to become a gentleman, but he doesn’t realize his best friend and his sister are also dreading what awaits each of them at the end of the Grand Tour. All of them are being defined rigidly by society’s boxes, and they all have to deal with it in different ways. And of course, for Monty there’s the additional issue that he’s in love with Percy.
But they don’t talk about that, especially since Percy is dealing with his own life and a chronic illness. Meanwhile, Felicity, who isn’t interested in the ways of romance (and seems to be pretty strongly coded as asexual and aromantic), wants nothing more than to pursue her scientific interests, but is supposed to go to finishing school to become a proper lady as is benefiting of her statute. Along the way, they gain a chaperone, loose a chaperone, steal something important, get way-sided by highway men and pirates, and end up getting caught up in something much bigger than the three of them.
Never have I read a book that incorporates humor, adventure, and feelings so flawlessly. I was charmed by Monty and his companions from the very first page, and even when Monty behaved selflessly and recklessly, I wanted better for him. I wanted him to be better, and he slowly but surely gets that character growth. The friendship and burgeoning romance between Monty and Percy feels so incredibly natural, the way that only a romance built out of a solid friendship can. They have so much history between them, and I’m willing to bet most readers will be just as emotional as I was. And then, of course, just when I began to FEEL things, this book would come out of nowhere with a hilarious line and I would laugh and laugh. It was honestly just a rollicking good time.
And for as much of a fun adventure as The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is, Lee effortlessly weaves in a bunch of serious themes too. Even though his sexuality means that Monty has to often sneak around and hide parts of himself, Lee doesn’t let him off the hook for the privilege he does has. Monty directly learns, over the course of the novel, how his life dramatically differs from his sister’s and his best friend’s just because he’s a white man from a wealthy family, and Felicity and Percy aren’t given the same allowances in life.
I do want to point out that this isn’t really a book to pick up if you’re looking for a historical novel. The setting is historical, yes, and the characters directly deal with their lives in that setting and what it means for them, but it reads much more like an adventure novel than a historical one, and there is a speculative element. That element drives the plot forward, but it’s not a huge part of the book. That didn’t bother me, but it might not appeal to every reader.
If it’s not already clear, I abso-bloody-lutely (that’s a reference) adored every single bit of this magical, wonderful book. Percy and Monty’s mutual pining and longing make this feel like the longest slow-burn ever, and the tension that brings is just delightful. Add in adventures and Felicity, a character after my own heart, and you have the makings of a favorite.
Also, please Mackenzi Lee, I need a 500 page companion novel of Felicity being an awesome scientist and not wanting to kiss anyone, please? I will pre-order that so fast. (UPDATE: since writing this review back in March, it has indeed come out we are getting a Felicity novel!)
Do you like hilarity and sarcasm? Do you like slow burn romances full of pining and feelings? Do you like awesome side characters who you know are going to conquer the world one day? Do you like characters who have so much character growth over the course of a novel and still remain true to themselves? If you answer yes to these questions, as I do, then The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a book for you.