Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

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Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Genre: YA Historical, Adventure

Release date: June 27th, 2017

Format: Audible Audiobook read by Christian Coulson

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Rating: ★★

A young bisexual British lord embarks on an unforgettable Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend/secret crush. An 18th-century romantic adventure for the modern age written by This Monstrous Thing author Mackenzi LeeSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets the 1700s.

Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are 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.

So Monty 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, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, dazzling, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is an irresistible romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.

This book is getting so much hype, and I have to say it’s not undeserved. Although Gentleman’s Guide has its flaws, I hope we get more books as fun and thoughtful as this one. There’s so little historical fiction in YA, and most of it is set in WWII, which don’t get me wrong I love, but Gentleman’s Guide is fun and witty while not losing track of the historical aspects and I want more!

I listened to the audiobook, and loved it. Christian Coulson (AKA Tom Riddle from Chamber of Secrets) gives a great perfomance and practically embodies Monty! He nails the comedic timing; his deliveries complement Lee’s writing flawlessly. Also his voice and accent are super dreamy. I would totally recommend picking this as an audiobook.

The historical elements are used to their fullest effect. You get the sense this story couldn’t have happened on any other historical time, even if there are no major historical events that give away when exactly in the 18th Century. As someone who doesn’t know much about that period, I was never lost as Lee made it all pretty accessible for non history-nerds. She paints a vivid picture of each city that the group visits and the times socials costumes. That said, it was clear that there was a lot of research done to back up the contents even when the plot veers off into the adventures. That said, some things were a bit dumbed down which always irks me. For example, I’m pretty sure most people know who Lazarus was and the characters should have too, there was no need to be dedicate an entire myth recounting the whole story. It’s a tough line to toe, and I think the writing mostly gets it right.

I loved Lee’s style. Its vocabulary and expressions give it a 18th Century flair, but it is also insanely readable. Monty’s voice and humor comes through across the entire novel. Mundane scenes are made all the more fun by his thoughts and quips. I found myself laughing out loud at his narration every other minute.

I am somehow stuck with an obstinate mount that resembles less a horse and more a leggy sausage, and seems fond of ingesting my commands and then ignoring them in their entirety.

That said, Lee can also craft beautiful, poetic sentences and I was often caught off guard by her eye for detail. I’m excited to see what else she writes!

The characters and the banter between were just delightful. The three main characters leap off page in their vivid characterizations, and their humor and wants make them super endearable. Though they start out as archetypes, they gain depth as the story progresses, especially Monty’s devil-may-care attitude. Even though I keep emphasizing how fun this book is, there are pretty heavy hitting moments, and they all come organically from the characters. I adored how Monty and Felicity’s relationship develops! The romance is pretty much what you’d expect, but the banter is precious and I shipped them all the way through.

Also regarding the characters, I also adored how diversity was incorporated seamlessly to a historical setting. Like, hey, queer people have always existed! And this book reflects that, never portraying Monty’s sexuality in a bad light, even if there are bigoted characters. I loved how his bisexuality was portrayed, and how he doesn’t stop being bisexual despite being in love with “a lad”. There’s also disability rep, a biracial co-lead, and many black side characters.  Lee doesn’t gross over the fact that slavery was very prevalent in the period, and though the plot never delves deep, it’s acknowledged at full. Monty, who’s fairly privileged being the son of an Earl and all, screws up multiple times, but he always gets called out on it.  I wish more historical books make the effort to include such diversity, especially given that it was there!

Now, onto the reason why I could only give this book four stars… the plot was pretty predictable. It’s very deliberately trope-y which I appreciate, but I don’t think Lee added enough new elements to make it seem refresh or even play around with expectations. Most of the cliches got played dead straight. I think this novel would have benefited from being a bit more meta. The climax was also rushed, and some of the more interesting elements were dropped very quickly. I knew pretty much how the moral conflict was going to go from the moment where it was introduced. This isn’t a book I would read purely for the story, but the other elements make the book worth it. 

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