I’ve never been one for history. Needless to say I can count how many historical fiction books I’ve read on one hand. Nothing against historical fiction—I’m sure it’s a great genre. I just never felt the want or need to read it. Until I heard about The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee on the Podcast Literaticast.
Set in the 1700’s, the book follows Henry “Monty” Montague, a flirtatious and somewhat wild teen of the upper class, on his tour of Europe after getting kicked out of yet another boarding school. The purpose: to shape him up into a true gentleman before taking over the family affairs. But Monty is determined to make the trip as fun filled as possible, all while harboring a crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy, and despite the unfortunate inclusion of his sister, Felicity. That is until Monty’s recklessness has the group pursued by highwaymen looking for something far more valuable than he realizes.
Within the first few pages, I was immediately blown away by this book. The characters were lifelike and the story weaved together the comical antics of teenagers set loose in Europe with the serious topics of illness, sexuality, race, and gender. Lee did a beautiful job at making the story as historical as possible, even keeping the fictional parts historically accurate so the story ties together nicely without any anachronisms. She even includes a few pages of historical information at the end of the book, which taught me a lot and showed just how much research she did for this book.
I also loved the stark differences between all of the characters. While Henry and Percy were similar in many ways, Percy was strictly the level headed one of the two while Henry tended to act before thinking. This helped make their relationship feel lifelike and kept a good pace to the book because you were never sure how one would react to the other. Then there is smart and witty Felicity, who reminded me a lot of Hermione from Harry Potter, but who was still different enough that she wasn’t a carbon copy. She was probably my favorite character because she was strong willed and spoke her mind during a time when women were supposed to be seen and not heard. She wanted an education, but resented the fact that her education would consist of learning to be a good wife and mother. Felicity was a force that helped move the story forward by being able to figure ways out of tricky situations quickly (although maybe not as smoothly as Henry).
I only wish that there was a bit more information on Percy. When the book began, I actually thought that’s where the plot was going: while on their tour of Europe, the group would somehow learn more about Percy’s family. But I was not disappointed with the direction that the book went and am interested to see what other works Lee comes out with.