I was going to start this post by asking, "Who doesn't love a bad boy?!" Then I realized that maybe I don't actually love bad boys. For instance, I was definitely Team Dean when it came to Gilmore Girls. And I am definitely Team Jonathan when it comes to Stranger Things. I am always Team Captain America. Who wasn't Team Aang on Avatar: The Last Air Bender, although I was baby devastated when the Battle of Lake Laogai ended with Jet splayed on the ground painfully sucking air into his lungs. Totally Team Spike when it comes to Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Oh come on! I know Spike was bad, but not as bad as Angel. Let's not argue about this. What I'm trying to say is I have fallen for Monty, the protagonist and narrator in The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue. He is absolutely a bad boy, but maybe I love his best friend, Percy, a little bit more, which would mean that once again I have fallen for the not bad boy. I'm so confused.
What I am not confused about is how much I love Mackenzi Lee's The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue. I love it to the moon and back. Have you ever picked up a book and known before you finished the first page that it was the one for you? It happens to me, but not often. It usually takes longer for me to fall for a book's charms, but this bookhad me smitten from the beginning. The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue has everything I need - adventure, humor, danger, intrigue, history, romance, unrequited love, scandal, heartbreak, dirty little secrets, a moving target of a plot, and amazingly well written characters.
Henry "Monty" Montague is the son of wealthy aristocrats. He embraces hedonism to its fullest and of course brings shame to the family name in the process. He is also bisexual in a time when homosexual acts were considered unnatural and criminal. Despite enjoying more than his fair share of kisses, frolics, and romps with the local boys and girls, Monty is wildly and madly in love with his best friend, Percy. Although the love is unrequited Monty simply can't stop loving Percy or going weak over the slightest and briefest moments of physical contact, and they frequently make contact. Poor Monty.
Percy doesn't have the pleasure of embracing Monty's cavalier attitude because he is burdened. He feels deeply his status as an orphaned child who enjoys the finer things because of familial generosity. His biggest burden is that he is biracial in a time when prejudice and discrimination are rampant, especially in the upper echelons of society. Despite these problems he keeps a careful eye on Monty. Finally, there is Felicity, Monty's unconventional sister. She is outraged that her sex keeps her from the intellectual pursuits she craves. Felicity would rather lose herself in science or an interesting book than a love affair.
These three leave England to deposit Felicity at a finishing school, her worst nightmare, where she will be broken and turned into a proper young lady, and for Monty and Percy to spend a year traveling, learning, and sowing many a wild oat before they must take on adult responsibilities. Monty loathes the idea of taking over his family's estate while Percy seems resigned to his fate, but both plan to embrace everything this final great adventure will bring. However, as with every great adventure, nothing goes according to plans.
Thanks to Monty's impulses and urges what is meant to be a lovely jaunt through the grand cities of Europe turns into a tale of robbers and pirates and maybe even the undead. Although hundreds of years separate readers and characters the plot is surprisingly topical as it addresses discrimination, institutionalized homophobia, racism, sexism, stolen political power, and parent/child relationships. There is something here for everyone.
There is but a single flaw in The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue - it's a standalone.