The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
By Mackenzi Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction/LGBTQ
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Bang Bang Rating: 1/2
Henry Montague is a screw up. He was kicked out of his school for gambling and illicit activities with boys and his father is fed up. As a punishment, he’s sending Henry, Henry’s plain studious sister and his Negro best friend on a “tour” of 18th century Europe. (It’s okay. I can say Negro; I’m Black.) During this time, Henry’s father hope he gets out all his jollies so that he can return home to run the family business.
Henry is excited for this opportunity because maybe his feelings for his best friend, Percy, will be requited and he can have a lot more illicit fun. But there’s one problem, Henry’s father hired a chaperone and intends to expose the trio to culture. On their early days of culture in Paris, Henry makes an ill advised moved on Percy and thus begins the cold shoulder.
On their first stop Henry insults the host, the Duke of Bourbon and former Prime Minister to the King, then steals a random puzzle box and this action puts the trio on the run from the Duke who desperately wants it back. While on the run in Marseilles, Percy falls ill and because not-that-attractive sister reads books, she knows how to do everything including the proper way to initially deal with Percy.
The trio discover the importance of the box and that it may have a medicinal value to help Percy so they desperately travel to Barcelona to return the box to the owner. Of course the owner is dead and no one knows how to open the box yet, the trio decide that they aren’t going to abandon this mystery even though they can’t get to the cure and they’re heads are on the chopping block for stealing it. After several convenient eavesdropping opportunities lead to important information on the owner, they stumble on time period science that the sister understands perfectly because he reads.
Henry still being a dick who has yet to grow even though EVERYONE tells him how selfish he his, learns how to open the box but keeps it to himself until they can sail to place that requires the box. They want to jump on a ship but whoops, no Negros allowed. No worries, they just stow away Percy until they are caught by Negro pirates because dickhead Henry opens his mouth to get them captured. But once again, no worries because Henry gets them out of this jam because he knows someone who knows someone and saves the day for the Negro pirates.
During all of these misadventures, Henry is constantly flushed by Percy’s eyes and gets flummoxed every time he brushes Percy’s knee and blah blah blah. Of course Henry grows in the end after saving the day and all is right in the land.
I wanted to love this book so badly but it started to take a turn by chapter 5-YIKES! There are several reasons for my rating. The biggest disappointment was the romance; it was too formulaic. I don’t think Lee knows how to write the unrequited love story yet. There are two reason for the unrequited-they don’t share their feelings or they are purposely keeping them away. Obviously it’s not the former because then this wouldn’t be a love story. When that main character is purposely being kept away, the author has to find a way to make turn the old trope into something new and I think Lee tried but it didn’t land for me. I think Bardugo did this wonderfully in Six of Crows as well as Clare in The Infernal Devices.
Secondly, I think Lee tried to put in too many historical significances. She had the Duke of Bourbon, not educating women, Percy’s illness and race, the tradition of “touring,” homosexuality, and list goes on. Percy’s race could have been omitted. Percy is half Black but he’s too brown to pass as White and many people think he’s a slave. US teens have a good overview of slavery and the fact the Lee didn’t add anything new to this time in our history means his race didn’t drive the plot. Percy could have been White and it wouldn’t have impacted the plot.
Thirdly, Felicity-Henry’s sister. Lee tried to make her an interesting character but in the end, she was a trope. She’s a plain girl who doesn’t want to go to finishing school and rather be a scientist. She reads a lot and therefore she’s able to get them out of jams. Sure she’s witty and smart but that’s it. She’s also used for Henry to explain his sexuality to the reader but most teens are once again not new to homosexuality and Lee didn’t offer any new wisdom.
Lastly, Henry. He wasn’t likable and I know that some characters aren’t supposed to be but I think Henry is. He’s selfish and although people are constantly calling him on it, he continues to be for 90% of the novel. And of course he grows in the end. Technically there’s nothing wrong with that but once again, it’s formulaic thus making is predictable and boring.
I wished Lee had focused more on the time period and less on the romance and I wished the mystery part of the novel was better developed.