3.5 to 4 stars. Having just finished The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, I’m actually quite surprised at the emphasis on the fluff and humor, because if funny it is (I mean, that naked scene is GOLD, okay?), one of its biggest strength – in my opinion – lies in the way it tackles important but heavy issues as bigotry, homoantagonism, disability, chronic illness and abuse. Consider this a trigger warning, would you?
Sure, Monty, the narrator, is as annoying as reading Marseilles (I know, I know, it’s the English spelling, but that’s just weird, if you ask me), but his voice was so unapologetic and refreshing that I couldn’t help but root for him (while shaking my head, though) (and sighing. I did a lot of sighing). It’s no surprise that I enjoyed a hard-to-like-sometimes character, though, and I can see readers being put off by his antics. I wasn’t – he was so much more. His growth was so worth it, too : what’s not to love in a character who starts as a bold stereotype – that would be the player rake – and slowly becomes more and more nuanced? I do not know, because that’s what I love the most.
“What are you doing?”
“I dunno. Helping? Sorry, you don’t have to drink it.”
“No, that’s… Thank you.” He takes the cup from me and has a cautious sip, then coughs once and clasps a fist sharply to his chest. “This is… tea?”
Between Monty, Percy and Felicity, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue succeeds in giving life to well-rounded and very interesting characters, with amazing dynamics, and it’s very much part of its appeal.
Percy, who is the most adorable sweetheart, is also one of the first black MC (not to mention gay) I have the pleasure to read about in an historical novel, and how sad is that, really? Contrary to what racist bigots say, Europe has always been diverse (by all means, do read History books, ffs) and it’s a damn shame that most historical novels fail to picture it accurately. I particularly appreciated how Mackenzi Lee used the characters’ interactions to acknowledge Monty’s white privilege thorough the story (and his lack of awareness at first), as well as the different layers of bigotry, from stereotypes to outright insults. I have to warn you though of the use of racist slurs – n*gro, for example.
“I’m sorry, are you getting on me to behave? You aren’t exactly a saintly enough candidate to be delivering a morality lecture, darling.”
“Do you think I could ever act the way you do and get away with it?”
“What does that mean?”
“Look at me and take a guess.”
As for Felicity, she’s basically a funnier Hermione, smart and driven and I can assure you that you’ll love her. I cannot wait to read her story.
“Just thinking about all that blood.” I nearly shudder. “Doesn’t it make you a bit squeamish?”
“Ladies haven’t the luxury of being squeamish about blood,” she replies, and Percy and I go fantastically read in unison.”
As I said earlier, if the story both focuses on Monty and Percy’s slow-burn/friends-to-lovers love-story (yes yes yes they were fantastic together) and their adventure through Europe, it would be simplistic to reduce it at that. Indeed there are quite a few scenes rather heartbreaking in which Monty, our bisexual MC, is abused by his father – who is an homoantagonistic jerk – and Percy is on the receiving end of racist behaviors several times. There are also important discussions about disability and chronic illness and I was very glad that Mackenzie Lee did not take the easy – but ableist – road (highlight to see the spoiler) : of “healing” Percy with a magical artifact.
My only complaint resides in the progression of the plot, which was quite all over the place at times. From reading reviews and talking with friends, I know that what annoyed me a bit was found engaging by other readers, but I was taken aback by the randomness of it all, I have to admit. I did not care for the magical aspect of the plot at all and I found some of the developments to be lacking in substance and it resulted in making me disengage from the story several times. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but as a whole I wasn’t blown-away by the story and that’s why I couldn’t love it but ended liking it instead.
The ending was so fucking great, though. Loved every part of it. Now I can’t wait to read Felicity’s story, don’t you?
(I’m certain it will grow back, though Felicity seems less confident)
^Now tell me that this quote isn’t the best of the whole book, haha.
TW – homoantagonism, abuse, suicide ideation, suicide joke, racism and racist slurs