Let me start off by saying The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a really incredible, fresh, fierce, fun book. Henry “Monty” Montague, son of an earl, and his best friend Percy, a light skinned, orphaned nephew of a member of the Admiralty Court (something that just means upper class and fancy in my understanding) are gallivanting across Europe for their last grand hurrah before they are expected to return to Cheshire as grown men and settle into stable lives. However, before the boys can drop Monty’s sister, Felicity, off at finishing school and depart for Italy, the group gets:
- stopped by highwaymen
- chased by the ex-Prime Minister to King Louis XV (although Monty does steal from the man)
- forced to walk for days without money and only the clothes on their back
- captured by pirates (although rather nice ones)
- arrested in order to talk to an alchemist/musician/political prisoner
- forced to dissect a comatose body
- shot at (many times) and actually get shot (once)
- and beaten some more (like a lot more)
Lee writes an adventure novel at its best, and let me tell you how she does it.
- the biggest bisexual asshole in England
- self pity galore and a tragic past to make me not just put up with him but somehow fall in love with him???
- an alcoholic
- like seriously alcoholic
- a smart, clever, positively delightful trouble magnet who does not “court trouble” so much as “flirt with it”
- hella narcissistic and total douche-bag (like typically I would hate this dude, but I don’t???)
- super alcoholic
- a chihuahua (a tiny, shaking body always panicking)
- honestly, he can’t help but get in trouble, and when he does you can be 100% sure he’ll find a way to make it worse
- Monty, really, I didn’t expect to like you at all, but you’re my son now. Hope you like The States
- Best Lines: “It occurs to me then that perhaps getting my little sister drunk and explaining why I screw boys is not the most responsible move on my part.”; EVERY OTHER LINE IN THE BOOK
- the boy Monty has been in love with since he was 16 and the only person who can put up with Monty’s shit
- a fully developed character on his own and someone who is honestly too good and pure for this world
- a black man living in an upper class English home as a member of the household (somewhat)
- hates parties (me too Percy)
- a disabled man living in an upper class English home as a member of the household (somewhat)
- very gay and in love with Monty
- too good for anyone, even my new adopted son, Monty
- a smart, funny, caring, well written boy who just wants to spend this last year with Monty before he goes off to Holland
- Best Lines: “I don’t think I have to be well to be happy.”; “It isn’t easy and it isn’t very enjoyable but it is what I’ve got to live with. This is who I am, and I don’t think I’m insane.”
- The best character in this book
- a science girl living in a finishing school world
- she takes the covers off of amatory novels and covers science books with them so her family won’t know what she’s really reading
- not here to party AT ALL
- possibly asexual???
- WILL RESORT TO SEDUCTION IF FORCED TO
- 100% snooper
- part-time surgeon, full-time bad-ass
- all around great character
- Best Lines (there are so many): “Men are such babies.”; “Ladies haven’t the luxury of being squeamish about blood.”; “It’s not broken.”
The main characters are essential to any novel but the side characters are what determine a good novel from a great novel, and this book is a great novel.
- Scipio- the black captain of the pirate ship; all around decent human being and Monty’s new dad if Monty would allow it; also realizes Felicity is the most important character in the book from pretty early on
- The men who make up the crew of Eleftheria (Greek for Freedom) were based on a real slave uprising that occurred on a ship in the eighteenth century, but in Lee’s story, they were slaves left behind in a jail cell after the war between France and Spain ended. Once they escaped, they stole a ship and re-branded themselves as pirates
- Scipio teaches Monty how to fight once he realizes that Monty has also lived under an abusive tormentor
- The men are astounded that someone like them (Percy) could belong in the upper class and have money and stature and respect (somewhat, somewhat, and somewhat)
- Best Lines: “There is nothing good about watching another man claim your ship because your skin is too dark to do it yourself,” he says, each word a glancing wound. “So in future, you needn’t demand apologies on my behalf.”; “Next time someone takes a swing at you, you swing straight back at him, all right? Promise me that, Henry.”
The Villain– AKA the Duke of Bourbon (AKA the Douche of Bourbon)
- all around villain
- I mean, Monty did steal from him, but like, chill dude
- Also Monty does try to have sex with a woman in the Duke’s bedroom
- Cool motive, still murder
- tries to kill them multiple times
- wants an alchemical (not a real word?) heart to get back in good terms with the sick King of France
- literally will chase them to the ends of the earth (or at least where the sinking earth meets the sea)
- likes to play dress up?
- At least the dude looks for his enemies himself instead of hiring others to do so for him
Many other amazing side characters appear from the fumbling, stuffy bear-leader, Mr. Lockwood, to two Catalan grandmothers who dupe The Duke of Bourbon to the grown children of a famous alchemist who have their own plans for the trio.
However, any great adventure novel also need the adventure. Lee sends the trio tumbling through a series of ridiculous, ill-fated, harrowing events (entirely Monty’s fault) that caused me to laugh from one page to the next. From Paris to Catalonia to Venice to Greece, the trio do their Grand Tour in the most unpleasant, unfortunate, impossibly ludicrous manner possible. They con their way from one adventure to the next.
The racism, homophobia, and sexism of the 1720s comes up repeatedly, and even Monty gets called out on his privilege as a rich, white male many times, which is probably why I can put up with him. Percy and Felicity never let him forget what they are capable of and how they are perceived even though he likes to get into scraps that are easiest to escape from as a privileged, white male. Lee does well to make sure Percy’s race and Felicity’s sex are never forgotten or hidden under an “author’s creativity” moment. She lets the scenes play out as they would in Europe at this time, and let’s social issues be addressed as they should be, which was something I found refreshing to read. She does not let Monty get away with his narrow minded statements, nor does she let many of the side characters who express narrow-minded sentiments escape without being corrected. I was really pleased with the way she handled everyone’s identifying traits and the ways she used them to further the story along.
Although this book was 500+ pages, I simply did not want it to end. Fortunately for me, Lee is publishing a sequel in 2018 (The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy) told from Felicity’s point of view, and I for one will certainly be looking forward to it!
“There was a fellow I knew
Named Henry Montague
He drinks lots of liquor
And never gets sick-er
And he’s four inches longer than you.”-Percy Newton