Release date: June 27, 2017
Henry “Monty” Montague was born to be a gentleman, but even the finest boarding schools in England haven’t been able to tame his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.
But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.
So Monty vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.
If you were looking for a historical romance that involves adventure, pirates, great and diverse set of characters and an adorable protagonist, look no further. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue tells the story of Henry, his sister Felicity and his best friend/crush Percy set out for a Grand Tour of Europe but instead get caught up in an adventure due to Henry’s foolish decisions. From there, they have to keep ahead of a Duke who is hunting them down, find an alchemical marvel, save a priceless object from being lost forever, and hope they complete all this before they are caught and sent back home, or worse end up dead.
Henry, our humorous and charming protagonist, appears to be a privileged white boy who doesn’t care much for others’ problems. He is bisexual and unabashed about it, a fact his father wants to hide and abuses him for. He is not as courageous and fierce as his little sister, Felicity (bow down before her) but he has heart, and would go to the end of the world for his best friend Percy. Percy, a biracial guy, does not get all the privileges that Henry has despite being born in an elite household, but he is eternally kind and loves his best friend nevertheless. When his illness becomes known to Henry (who is now desperate to find the cure), he weighs the cost of the cure against the life he wants to live – a supremely noble intention. The story also tackles the issues of racism, and sexism in the 18th century and how it affected the lives of our characters.
You could say the central plot of the story is Henry learning about his privilege and growing up, discovering others’ hardships. Not to say that he is selfish, but he is unaware and often thoughtless about what Percy goes through as a person of color or what limitations Felicity faces due to the fact that she is female. He is the clown of the group, of course, the immature, impetuous and careless one and the one they both take care of, but he redeems himself by the end of the story. The obstacle to his and Percy’s relationship at first appears to be the fact that they are both men and, well, homosexuality was not even recognized as a valid sexuality at that time; it is, however, not the sole thing keeping them apart. Societal expectations, as well as their dependence on their respective families drive a wedge between them, and also Percy’s illness which becomes a sore point.
I like that the author brought up the issues in a time when it wouldn’t even be recognized. Sure, many historical YA romances have feminist heroines, but how many have a gently cultivated relationship between two boys, and a girl who is feminine but also yearns for an equal footing. The ending, however, does not completely resolve the issues that were recognized as obstacles to their happy ending – namely, Henry’s and Percy’s futures as being independent, Henry’s fear of his father’s abuse, Felicity’s desire to become a physician – it was left too open-ended for my taste. But in its entirety, the book is a fun, entertaining and well-thought out story with a good historical perspective.
Received a free review copy from Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss.