Mackenzi Lee’s novel The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue tells of Henry “Monty” Montague, a spoiled English gentleman, about to begin his Grand Tour of Europe before taking over his family’s estate. Accompanying him are his sister Felicity and his best friend Percy—whom Monty’s had a secret crush on for years. Monty is ready to spend the summer getting into all sorts of mischief, but when he makes an ill-advised decision in France, he and his companions find themselves on a chase across the continent. And Monty finds himself questioning everything he’s known, including—for the first time—himself.
Monty is an excellent protagonist. He’s a complete disaster of a person in the beginning, only caring about getting drunk, flirting with every pretty person in the room, and generally embarrassing his family. However, as the plot progresses, he learns lessons and finds himself in new situations; his development is organic, believable, and wonderful. He can certainly be insufferable, but he’s still relatable in his insecurities and fears about his future and feelings, and is ultimately lovable.
Meanwhile, Felicity is savvy, clever, and fearless, while Percy is sweet, loyal, and self-sacrificing. They’re a fun trio, and their banter is amazing (I’m a sucker for banter, if you haven’t noticed). Other side characters including Helena, Matteo, and Scipio are also well-written.
I thought I knew what I was getting into with this book, but it quickly took a turn I didn’t foresee. What begins as a simple vacation turns into a fast-paced mystery/quest/manhunt. It is a love story (which had me tearing at my hair because I wanted them to just kiss already), but so much more than that. Beyond just gender and sexuality, Lee doesn’t shy away from also portraying and discussing issues like race relations, disabilities, and abuse. And she does so with care and sensitivity, but doesn’t ever lose sight of the overall plot.
I particularly loved the scenes where Percy and Monty discuss race. Percy is the child of a white man and a black woman, and being in 1700s Europe, faces discrimination because of this. His attempts to explain this to Monty are some of the best scenes, and his struggle is still relevant to society today. Also, Felicity’s desire to be more than what her parents expect of her is something plenty of people can relate to, especially women. I can’t wait to watch her try to break more glass ceilings in the companion book to this one!
In the end, The Gentleman’s Guide is a brilliant novel. The characters are fantastic and sympathetic, the plot engaging and swashbuckling, and the themes deep and important. This is the perfect summer read for teens, or for anyone looking for European escapades with friendship, danger, and love.
Overall rating: 8.7/10
I listened to the audiobook of this, and I must say—Christian Coulson is the perfect narrator for it. His voice is the epitome of a posh British gentleman, but with just enough heart and wit.