The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee
Published: June 2017
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Lord Henry “Monty” Montague is a charming rake who expertly uses his dimples and ruffled hair to capture the hearts of a steady stream of eighteenth-century gals and guys. He loves: a good time, a casual fling, a strong drink, and his biracial best friend Percy. He hates: his abusive father, early mornings, being told what to do, feeling weak, and the agony of not knowing whether or not Percy returns his feelings.
Enter the Grand Tour: the eighteenth-century equivalent of the gap year, in which privileged young men travel through Europe to acquire some culture and to sow their wild oats, before returning to England and settling down to their social and familial obligations as gentlemen. Monty can’t wait to spend a year frolicking around the continent with the love of his life. If only their “bear leader” chaperone as well as his younger sister Felicity weren’t tagging along too. Soon enough he has bigger things to worry about. Following an embarrassing (and drunken) incident during a party at Versailles, Monty impulsively steals a small artifact from the Duke of Bourbon’s chambers.
This theft sets into motion a crazy chain of events. Before they know it, Felicity, Percy, and Monty are stranded on their own with no money and very little supplies, forced to run for their lives. The trio encounter highwaymen, pirates, and alchemists; and explore a street fair, a prison, and a crypt on their journey from Marseilles to Barcelona to Venice. Safe to say this Grand Tour isn’t going exactly to plan. Once the dust settles, will Monty finally have the courage to tell Percy how he feels and live the life he-and not his father- chooses for himself?
There’s been almost epic levels of hype surrounding this book. Amazingly, that hype has been well-placed. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is ridiculously fun. Its 500 plus pages flew by, and I didn’t want this adventurous romp to end. I’m already eagerly awaiting the release of the sequel-The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Pirates-narrated by the fierce and feminist Felicity.
I adored all three main characters, and totally shipped Monty and Percy. The prose is engaging and the dialogue polished and witty. The ending felt a little abrupt, but at least we know the story will continue in the sequel(s). I didn’t love the fantastical elements in the novel, but luckily these weren’t featured too heavily.
It’s clear that Mackenzi Lee has an appreciation for history and a desire to tell stories with diverse characters. I think the whole tradition of the Grand Tour is both fascinating and slightly bizarre. It’s such a clever framework on which to hang an historical fiction adventure story. I would have loved if even more of these historical details had been included however. I loved that Percy is based on the real-life figure of Dido Belle, an eighteenth-century biracial woman whose biography is told in the book Belle by Paula Byrne, and in the film of the same name. I also enjoyed Lee’s informative author’s notes at the end, as well as her #BygoneBadassBroads twitter series. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a delightful and fresh take on YA historical fiction. It is an entertaining adventure that is practically begging to be made into a film. Lee’s complex, diverse characters have burrowed their way into my heart. This one didn’t disappoint; it was a pure joy to read.