Review: Mackenzi Lee - "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue"
I laughed, I cried. I loved it.
“It's beginning to feel like he's shuffling his way through the seven deadly sins, in ascending order of my favourites.”
I have been wanting to read "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue" for a long time. My first reason was that I wanted to read the sequel (which hasn't changed, I still want to read it). But also because the combination of LGBTQIA and historical fiction and a little bit of fantasy - well, count me in, I guess! From the book's cover I somehow assumed that it would be set in Victorian times. I don't know who made that cover, but they did a rather poor job at depicting the fashion of the 1700s, but I am not going to dwell on that, because that has nothing to do with the book itself. (If anyone is interested in me ranting about badly depicted historical fashion, please drop a comment and I might do a post on that at some later point.)
Monty is a young good-for-nothing man who is sent on a trip across Europe by his father after he got expelled from Eton college. He obviously expects the journey to be all gin, girls and gambling, especially as his friend Percy - whom he harbours more than friendly feelings for - and his sister Felicity are accompanying him. But he's heavily chaperoned - yet still ends up naked in the gardens of Versailles.
I listened to this whole story as an audio book and I wholeheartedly recommend the audio book because it's beautifully narrated.I laughed so hard. The comedy in this is amazing. The characters are lovable. Percy is the cutest cinnamon bun under the sun and Felicity is badass and Monty is an idiot, and yet the reader still wants him to get his happily ever after. This book touches on many, many topics from being gay in the olden days over being black in these times, when slavery was still happening, to family conflict and how it shapes our brains and how we see ourselves.
The writing is brilliant, because there are these beautifully flowery moments with an almost poetic use of language mixed with action-packed blockbuster-scenes and some of the above-mentioned humour and it actually works. There's never a dull moment in this and it's truly entertaining.
In terms of historical accuracy, the cover isn't the only thing that is more than a little off. Considering that we see this whole story as seen with Monty's eyes, the language is quite contemporary. Which is fine, because it's done throughout the entire book and Lee doesn't even try to mimic the historical way of speaking.
The book also glosses over some of the less awesome things of the times which became extremely obvious to me when the trio was stowed away on a ship for several days and while it was mentioned the hold smells of rotten wood (which would not be the case, because this is happening at sea and sea water preserves your wood and it doesn't become moldy - the only way you get moldy wood in a boat is by sailing through sweet water) it's never mentioned what it will actually stink like after a couple of days. I think the medical background - which is quite important for the plot - was pretty spot on and well researched which I appreciate as were most of the settings.
Finally, I got the impression that the main antagonist in the story (you could argue there's more than one) is kind of one-dimensional and therefore stayed that weird Captain Hook like cartoon character. It would have been an easy fix.
All in all though, "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue" is a great 3/4 book, with cool characters, a roller-coaster ride of a plot and some of the sweetest romance I have lately encountered in a book.