Series: Guide #1
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on June 27th 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
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Who knew historical fiction could be laugh out loud funny? I had no idea what I was expecting when I picked up Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, but I was certainly not expecting to devour 500+ pages of historical fiction in just over 24 hours, chuckling to myself the entire time. But that’s exactly what happened. What an absolutely brilliant read this is!
Set in 18th century Europe, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue follows Henry Montague, or “Monty” as his friends call him. Monty, for lack of a better description, is a hot mess. As the son of an English lord, Monty has been raised with every imaginable privilege – money, education, endless connections. His path to a successful future shouldn’t even be in doubt, except that Monty is unfortunately his own worst enemy. In spite of being educated in the best boarding schools and raised by the strictest of fathers, Monty is a free spirit who cannot be tamed. He lives the life of a rogue, his days and nights filled with endless partying and drinking, gambling, and even seducing both men and women. When Monty gets kicked out of Eton, one of the most prestigious schools in England, his father has had it. He sends Monty on a Grand Tour of Europe with the expectation that Monty returns to England a mature young man ready to assume the responsibilities of taking over the family’s estate. Knowing his son’s ways all too well, Monty’s father adds in the stipulation that if he does one more thing to embarrass the family name, particularly if it involves jumping into bed with one more young man, Monty will be disinherited and will henceforth have to fend for himself in the world.
Monty sees the Grand Tour as his last hurrah. He has resigned himself to the fact that he is stuck taking over the family estate, even though it’s not what he really wants. But he has been beaten down enough by his father’s chronic disappointment over the years to assume that he’s pretty well useless when it comes to anything else. He plans to go on this tour, engage in as much pleasure and vice as he can, and then come home and take his place by his father’s side.
There are just a few hitches in this plan, however. First, he’ll have his younger and obnoxious sister, Felicity, in tow for much of the tour, who is sure to put a damper on his plans for “entertainment.” Second, he will be accompanied on this tour by his best friend, Percy. While that shouldn’t be an issue in itself, the problem lies in that Monty has a mad unrequited crush on Percy and has felt this way for years. This tour sounds like the perfect time to try to find out if there’s any chance of Percy feeling the same way, but to pursue his attraction to Percy, means Monty is also flirting with the idea of being disinherited. And finally, third, a Mr. Lockwood will be traveling with Monty as well, serving as a guide and of course as a witness to any and all of Monty’s antics.
Will Monty change his ways and finally conform to what his father and what proper 18th century English society expects of him, or will Monty choose another path for himself?
This is just one of those stories where there’s so much to like, I could go on forever so I’m just going to pick a few highlights, most of which revolves around the wonderfully, unforgettable characters Mackenzi Lee has created.
Let’s start with Monty. Monty is the one who tells the story and I have to say he is one of the most entertaining narrators I’ve read in a long time. I mean, seriously, laugh out loud funny. And I loved everything about him. Even when he was behaving like a complete train wreck or an insensitive brat, there was still somehow just this lovable quality about Monty. One of Monty’s best (and worst) qualities is his big mouth. He spends much of his time running his mouth and getting himself and his friends into scrapes they probably wouldn’t have gotten into otherwise. By the same token, however, he is also a smooth talker and his big mouth has often gotten them all out of scrapes that they’ve managed to get themselves into. So even when you want to throttle him, you still find yourself cheering him on and chuckling at his antics.
It’s also not just all fun and games with Monty though, which is another reason why I adored this character. Even though he’s this privileged young nobleman, somehow Monty still manages to have this underdog side to him that makes you root for him in spite of himself. I thought his crush on Percy was just so adorable and was really cheering for him to do something about that. I also had tremendous sympathy for Monty because his father was so awful to him and was really hoping that he would stand up to his father and realize his own self-worth.
Monty’s sister, Felicity, was another of my favorite characters in the story. At first she comes off as this obnoxious girl who just wants to have an attitude and annoy her brother at every turn. But then the more we get to see and learn of Felicity, the more likeable she becomes. It turns out she’s a brilliant girl who is ahead of her time and wants to be a doctor. She has been studying medicine on the sly and those skills come in more handy on the Grand Tour than any of them could have possibly anticipated. Felicity’s attitude and general sassiness stems from her general frustration with being prevented by society’s expectations from doing what she wants to do. Once I saw that, all I could think was ‘Girl, you be as sassy as you want to be.”
And then of course, we have Percy. Percy is just one of those people who have a beautiful soul and that you can’t help but be attracted to. Unlike Monty, Percy does not live a life of privilege. Percy is biracial at a time in society where it is not widely accepted and so he has to constantly deal with the ugliness of racism. He also has the added difficulty of suffering from epilepsy at a time when few understood what it was and assumed that it was some kind of mental deficiency. His father has sent him on this Grand Tour with Monty as his own kind of last hurrah before he is locked away in an asylum because of the epilepsy. Even though he has all of this going on in his own life, he still manages to be there for Monty every step of the way, the best possible friend. He’s just the sweetest person and it’s so easy to see why Monty has been in love with him forever.
Okay, let’s talk about that romance. Those who regularly read my reviews know that romance is generally not my thing. Usually I find it just unrealistic, in the way, etc. Well, not this time! I cannot even express how hard I was shipping Monty and Percy together. Their chemistry was just off the charts sweet and sexy, and the constant tension of “Will they or won’t they move past the friend zone?” just kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire story.
The Grand Tour itself. While the Grand Tour itself probably should have been a fairly standard affair, since many young adults made similar trips after university, there was absolutely nothing standard about Monty and Co’s tour. They left England and traveled to Paris, Barcelona, and Venice along the way, and what was meant to be a trip to give Monty some much needed culture and refinement to help him change his ways, instead becomes a dangerous and fast-paced rollicking adventure that includes highway robbers, pirates, and much, much more. Some might say that their adventures were a bit over the top, but I didn’t care because it was all just so thoroughly entertaining!
I really can’t think of anything I disliked. The ending perhaps felt a bit rushed, but I was so happy with the ending overall that I won’t complain about that.
Equal parts adventure story and coming of age story, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a book I think pretty much anyone would enjoy. It’s an entertaining read with such delightfully memorable characters that even if you don’t typically enjoy historical fiction, I think Monty and the gang could change your mind.
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.