“On the morning we are to leave for our Grand Tour of the Continent, I wake in bed beside Percy. For a disorienting moment, it’s unclear whether we’ve slept together or simply slept together.”
Whenever I recommend The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue to anyone, I never try to explain the plot. I just hand them the book and tell them to read the first paragraph. As you can see from the quote above, it’s pretty convincing! Monty’s voice draws you into his world, and he never loses his charm, even when he is making choices that make you groan.
Mackenzi Lee has a passion for history, and it shines through in this historical fiction romp, which follows Monty, his friend (and unrequited love), Percy, as well as Monty’s sister Felicity and a host of other colorful characters across 1700s Britain, on a final summer together before Monty must take on the burdens of his role as eldest son, and Percy is to be sent away to school in the Netherlands.
But Monty isn’t content to be separated from Percy so easily, and he has a few schemes up his sleeve to keep them together. These plans…well, they go awry. Here’s our breakdown on the Scale:
Not offensive to women = 1/1 pt
It’s a historical setting, so there is period-appropriate sexism. However, the white male main character spends the novel learning from his missteps. Monty is more uncaring or unable to see the trials of women in the 1700s (and people of color, and disabled people), than he is actively antagonistic. His character development is learning to be less selfish, not less cruel.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
The main female character is Monty’s sister, Felicity. She is a supporting character, but she has a strong role (despite Monty always trying to lose her throughout their journey), a positive influence on Monty (and not a mothering type, though he is one to always bring on trouble.) Her fierce personhood forces Monty to understand his effect on the people around him, and she and Monty bond over the course of their trip. The sequel, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, centers on Felicity after the events of The Gentleman’s Guide.
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
Not to my knowledge. Does pass for LGBT rep.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
I really feel like that opening paragraph says it all! Monty is hilarious and vivacious. Who wouldn’t want to follow this guy on an action-packed trip across Europe? Through the halls of nobility, to gambling dens, to pirate ships, to sinking catacombs…Yes, he’s insufferable, but you love to see him flirt his way out of trouble, fight for those he loves, and basically make all the wrong choices until he finally grows up and learns how to fight for those he loves.
A Victorian bloodbath unfolds in Guillermo del Toro’s gorgeous Crimson Peak. Read our review here.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5/5 pts
Now, reading about a rich, white noble in 1700s Europe learn to respect women and people of color might not sound like a great read, but I promise it’s done well, and without pandering. I’d call this book more of a young person coming to understand what privilege is. Monty’s life hasn’t been easy. He lives under the thumb of an abusive father and the danger of others discovering bisexual Monty’s sexual preferences. So he has suffered because of who he is, he just needs to learn that he is still privileged in some ways. Lee handles this all very well, and the characters have lots of honest conversations with each other, between action scenes and Monty’s antics.
I read this book on vacation…and then so did my mother, and then my sister (told you that first paragraph sucks people in). It’s the perfect vacation read because it is fun, but includes rich underlying themes that make it a keeper. It’s no surprise there’s a movie adaptation coming soon. Highly recommend you add The Gentleman’s Guide to your reading list today!
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