Reading: Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

Gentlemen's Guide to Vice and Virtue is a story with characters that grow on you with every page, grand adventures, stupid decisions, and the pursuit of love instead of worldly possessions.

Reading History

First Read: December 27, 2021 - January 3, 2022
Reading Counter: 1
Rating: 5 - Awesome

Summary & Thoughts

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

I knew nothing about this book going in. Considering I don't enjoy historical fiction, that's probably a good thing, or I might never have picked this one up. Though this is a more historical myth-laden fantasy novel than traditional historical fiction.

Monty, the protagonist is a young man—Oh, yeah, right, it's YA, too. More reasons why it's good I knew little about this book. He got kicked out of Eton college after being caught with another guy. His father has been beating him all his life, and he is sent onto a tour of mainland Europe as a final chance to grow up and get over his gayness.

He is accompanied by his sister and his best friend and love interest. So, ironically, on this tour that's supposed to make him less gay, he's got the gay love interest right there by his side.

But admitting to himself that he loves Percy and that he's been hiding behind sex and drugs and alcohol is too easy, right? Cod, Monty is so annoying and stupid in the beginning. If the friend who recommended this book hadn't told me I'd grow to like the dude, I might have thrown in the towel early. I'm glad I didn't.

They get through some of the planned tour stops, but Monty finds himself in the rooms of some Duke with a concubine and steals a little box to spite the Duke. It turns out the box is valuable, and they get attacked by highway men attempting to find it. They flee and make it to somewhere where people recognize this box. The box belongs to a Spanish scientist, and they decide to return it to him. Instead, they only find the man's children. It turns out the dad is in prison for protecting the secret in the box. Monty lets himself get caught to visit him, gets the code for the box and the backstory. The Spanish scientist is an alchemist who actually managed to create a panacea from his wife's heart. To protect her, he has sent her onto an island near Venice.

Unfortunately, the island is sinking, and they don't have long to save the panacea. Oh right, I should probably mention that Percy has epilepsy and is supposed to be sent to an asylum after the tour because his parents don't know what to do with him. Monty wants the panacea for Percy, of course.

Their boat gets attacked by pirates who turn out to be former slaves who do what they need to do to survive. They help them get to the island in return for legitimate shipping papers from one of Percy's relatives. One of the children destroys the heart when the Duke shows up to steal it. So, the panacea is lost.

Throughout this, Monty and Felicity go from annoyed siblings to fondness, and Monty and Percy figure out they've been in love for years, dancing around each other.

They choose a life of poverty instead of returning to England, where Monty would be expected to take over the family estate and Percy would be sent to an asylum for his epilepsy. Felicity doesn't return to England either, but instead chooses her own path in Scotland.

And that's probably my favorite part of this book: they don't get some grand happy ending where everything magically works itself out but choose a simple life together with real-life issues over a life of riches.

Monty definitely is an annoying fuck in the beginning (and sometimes afterward) but it's clear this is because of his father and how he has been treated. The entire book is a nice lens on homosexuality in times when it was outlawed, and on the role women play in said society.

And, of course, there are legends and myth and piracy, alchemy, and grand adventures.

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand

Kate Hildenbrand is the writer behind the essays here, author of fiction novels, the creator of the Kate Hildenbrand podcast, and a student of marine ecology. At least, that's her on the surface.