Book Review | The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Once in a great many years, you stumble upon a book that lights you up and brings you nothing but pure joy. For me, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was one of these books. Mackenzi Lee manages to create a story packed full of so much! There’s adventure, romance, sibling shenanigans, wanderlust, and character transformations that are both well formulated and deeply moving. I’ll be the first to say I’m a little bored with the modern Young Adult trope of strong, tragic characters who are good at everything and can also get anyone they want romantically. And I have no desire to read another book featuring an assassin. It’s overdone and the stories being written following this formula offer little to further the trope. If that’s your thing, great. Carry on. But for those looking for a fresh yet nostalgic reading experience, this book is the one for you.

What’s it about?

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.

– Goodreads synopsis

Review (Spoilers Abound)

It’s the 1700’s (or thereabouts) and Monty’s father has agreed to send his son, daughter, and his son’s friend on a grand tour of Europe in the hopes that his son will get all of his frivolities out once and for all before settling in as the heir to the family fortune, business, and estate. Following Monty, Felicity, and Percy as they frolic around Europe was nothing short of fantastic. Frolic makes it sound much more fun than it really was, however. The trio encounters bloodthirsty highwaymen, lousy pirates who are really bad…at being pirates, alchemy with a side of heartburn, and lords with greedy little fingers stuck in some very sticky pies, all of which were not on the itinerary.

The MMF trio reminded me greatly of the trio from Harry Potter, and I often found myself imagining Felicity speaking with Hermione’s voice. However, this was a personal observance that didn’t necessarily hinder the experience of the book. The characters were each distinct and complex, with motivations and desires of their own. Felicity in particular was a favorite of mine, with her fiery spirit and cool logic in the face of danger. Percy’s plot takes an unexpected turn that only adds tension to the heartstrings pulled tight between him and Monty. And then there is Monty himself; Henry Montague who, like any good main character is clueless yet charming, immature yet hilarious, and who finds his courage and grows up a little throughout the course of the story.

Now for a look at the technical side of things. I appreciated how many political issues this book tackles. In the span of a single book, we encounter racism and prejudice, domestic abuse, women’s rights, and the stigmas surrounding certain health issues. These big themes impact our characters in very real ways, impeding their journey every step of the way. It was interesting to read a YA fiction book with these relatable real-life issues getting in the way. The author tackles these hurdles tastefully, and in a way that seems progressive and informative.

There is plenty of banter and laughs to be had throughout the story, and the book is written in light vernacular that makes it a quick and easy read. Despite this, the book can still be enjoyed by people of any age (if they’re old enough to not be grossed out by some really cute kissing). The book also has a strong LGBTQ romance between two of the main characters that really ties everything together. I was tearing up while reading some passages, and my heart was full to bursting by the end. This is the kind of book you read while kicking your heels and squealing silently to yourself, or at least it was for me.

Should You Read It?

The themes of young adult adventure and interpersonal relationships are similar to the Harry Potter series.
The adventure tropes are reminiscent of classics such as The Princess Bride by William Goldman.
The lighthearted action, backed by a steady romance theme draws some parallels with Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

If you like happy endings, fluffy romance, and politically correct fiction, this will be a winner!

Happy reading,
The Literary Kat

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