Monday, 12 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 17: "The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virue" by Mackenzi Lee

Page count: 528 pages
Audio book length: 10 hrs 47 mins
Rating: 2.5 stars

Henry "Monty" Montague is a young bisexual lord sent off on a grand tour of Europe, accompanied by his best friend, Percy (who Monty has a massive crush on) and Felicity, Monty's younger sister. For the first part of their journey, they are accompanied by an elderly tutor, but once they leave Paris, hijinks really ensue due to very poor decisions made on Monty's part and soon the three young people are left to fend for themselves, on a crazy adventure through much of Europe - involving highwaymen, pirates, alchemy and more.

This book appeared on SO many "Best of 2017" lists. I read so many favourable reviews of it, on a number of websites. The premise is so promising. Young, handsome queer nobleman travels through 18th Century Europe with his biracial best friend and feminist younger sister, having all sorts of adventures. It literally took me six months to finish the book. To be fair, for much of those six months, I simply wasn't reading (or listening, as the case may be), because I didn't actually care enough to pick the book back up again.

I can see why this is a book that was loved by many. I really liked Percy and Felicity. A lot of important issues are dealt with over the course of a book that really does have a lot of plot twists and adventure. You'd not necessarily expect a romantic historical romp to have a queer main character or deal with matters of parental abuse, racism, the treatment of the mentally ill, feminism and so forth. I just really couldn't with Monty. I get that for all that he is white and privileged and rather spoiled, he also doesn't have the easiest time of it. His father is clearly the worst. Being bisexual in the 18th Century - not great. But for all of his legitimate complaints, he's also a self-centred, impulsive idiot who gets his companions into a lot of trouble time and time again and pretty much without fail makes every situation all about himself - even though both Percy and Felicity have a lot more they could complain about. Being black or female in the 18th Century - less great than being a rich, white, cis-gendered male. I kept hoping Monty was going to learn some sort of lesson and improve, and he does, eventually, but to me, it was just too little, too late.

In the end, I did finish the book, but I also returned the audio book to Audible for a refund of a credit, because there is absolutely NO way that I will want to revisit this book again. It seems that Mackenzi Lee has a sequel coming out later this year, all about Felicity, which I may give a try, because I liked her a lot. I just hope Monty stays far away from the main narrative, because I have had it with that guy.

Judging a book by its cover: "A dizzying, dazzling and roguishly romantic romp" says the cover quote. Sadly the main romantic plot of the book could be said to be Monty's love of himself (yes, he fancies Percy, but so much more page space in the book seems focused on how much he fancies himself). I will give the cover designer kudos for picking a cover model who looks as spoiled and entitled as Monty acts for much of the book. The drawn on title and little doodles (a sailing ship, a violin, playing cards - all things that appear in the story) add whimsy.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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