“Oh I think we’re well off track now. We’ve had an adventure novel instead of a Tour.”
This sentiment, stated by the main character, perfectly sums up The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee. It begins as a novel about a young gentleman named Henry “Monty” Montague who will be leaving England on his grand Tour of Europe along with his sister, Felicity, and his best friend, Percy. The Tour is expected to be a year of gambling, drinking, and partying before Monty must return to England and take over his father’s duties as Lord of Disley. But thanks to the shenanigans that Monty gets himself into, he, his sister, and his friend will be experiencing more of Europe than they ever expected to see – in ways they never could have imagined.
While the adventure in this novel is not lacking, what really makes it stand apart are the characters. Set in the Regency Era, one might expect stiff characters who match the ideal of the time: straight, white men with a rigid code of ethics. However, the reader will see very quickly that this book subverts these ideals head-on very quickly. Aside from being loose with his morals when it comes to women, he also has an eye for men – particularly his best friend Percy. Through Monty and Percy, the story explores how homosexuality was viewed in the era. While Monty and Percy are both upfront about their feelings for men, both are cautious when showing their feelings in public. Felicity in particular is scared that the two of them will be too obvious and will get themselves hurt. Through Percy, Lee also explores how black people were treated. While slavery has been abolished, Percy is no stranger to being treated like a second class citizen despite being the ward of a high-ranking member of society. Felicity also gives us a good look at how women were expected to act, even if they were more brilliant than they were given credit for. Felicity, does not put up with any coddling. In fact, most of the characters see right away that she is the most capable of the group.
If readers are looking for an adventure novel with a different set of characters, this is the book for you. Pirates, highway men, romance, evil dukes, quick wit and more await the reader of this thoroughly charming novel.