Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Narrator: Christian Coulson
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Series? Yes, companion novel on the way!
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (hereby referred to as GGTVV) is a swashbuckling adventure exploring love and loss. The book exuberates an energy that will leave its readers breathless and delighted, as well as itching for a road-trip through 17th Europe of their own. While GGTVV is filled with hilarious escapades and heart-warming romance, it never shies away from critically examining the bigotry inherent within the book’s setting. The internet is hyping this one up to be one of 2017’s Required Readings, and I am in 100% agreement.
From page one, I was completely arrested with the voices of the characters within GGTVV, especially its protagonist – Monty. Monty is a complete rascal, but one that I could not help but love. He’s privileged and self-centred, with Felicity and Percy acting as his voices of reason and challenging him at every turn. What makes Monty endearing rather than infuriating is his capacity for growth and compassion, despites his numerous character flaws. It also helps that he has razor-sharp wit and one of the most entertaining narrative voices I’ve had the pleasure of reading. This is one of those rare books that literally makes me laugh-out-loud, even if it ends up putting my heart through the wringer with the very next scene.
Monty and Percy’s romance is one of the central conflict and driving force of this novel, and the relationship between the two boys is palpable and realistic. Friendship to love is one of my favourite romantic tropes, primarily because it mirrors my own life – and Monty/Percy has everything I adore in a ship: brilliant banter, playful flirtations, and an implicit understanding of one another. The book explores numerous aspects of their relationships and the imbalances within it, from the class differences due to Percy’s darker skin colour – to 17th century Europe’s prejudice against homosexuality. Percy himself is utterly lovable, and I can see why Monty adores him so much – he’s good-natured, intelligent, and have a resolute moral compass – which makes him an excellent foil to Monty. Percy also deals with chronic illness, and I love how GGTVV explores it.
Filling out the golden trio (Potter trio, who?) is the brilliant Felicity, Monty’s younger sister. Felicity embodies one of my favourite female archetypes, the intelligent woman who won’t abide by male nonsense or the restrictive nature of a patriarchal society. I love that she still has to combat with her own internal prejudices, instilled by the society she grew up in. Felicity is no 21st century #woke teenager transported to play dress-up in historical Europe, she feels real and authentic to the nivel’s setting – while she kicks ass and takes name using her formidable mind. I can’t tell you how excited I am to learn that Felicity has a book of her own, set to be released in 2018!
While the highlight of this book was definitely its wonderful characters and their dynamics, the plot of GGTVV is also a rollicking adventure. Within these pages are highwaymen, pirates, dastardly dukes, alchemical impossibilities, and the famed sights of 17th century Europe. The setting felt incredibly authentic, from the vivid description of the overcrowded streets to the details about the garments (and wigs!) worn in this time period. Although it’s a lengthy book, it passes in no time at all – and I am mightily tempted to go back for a reread.
The accompanying audiobook is an absolute charmer, perfectly narrated by Christian Coulson, who most of you will know as the teenage Tom Marvolo Riddle from the screen-adaptation of The Chamber of Secrets. His voice is an uncannily accurate fit for Monty, with every drawl and inflection delivered beautifully. The voices used between different characters were very distinctive, I had no issues telling them apart, even during segments where the text mostly contained conversations. I felt the audiobook gave me a much more immersive experience, and would highly recommend it to both first-time readers of GGTVV, as well as fans seeking to reread the novel.
Note that this book does deal with several darker topics: primarily racism, homophobia, child abuse, slavery, and the ostracization of people with chronic illness. All of these topics are challenged on the page and explored with respect – but if any of these are your triggers, take heed.
I have little doubt that GGTVV will end up on my favourites list at the end of this year. I have not enjoyed historical fiction so much in a long time, and I’m keen to go and find Mackenzi Lee’s debut novel! Have you read this one? If you have, come join me in fangirling over its wonderful characters.