Every once in a while you come across a book that was clearly written just for you. I’m a sucker for Victorian Era inspired fiction, especially if it’s witty. After looking for recommendations on Booktube I came across A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue follows Henry Montague (called Monty for short). He’s about to go on tour of the continent with his best friend Percy and his younger sister Felicity. The trip is to be filled with Monty’s favourite things: parties, alcohol and sex. But the morning they are to depart, Monty’s father surprises them with a chaperone who has a few ground rules:
”No visitations to any dens of iniquity,” he goes on, “or sordid establishments of any kind. No caterwauling, no inappropriate relations with the opposite sex. No fornication. No slothfulness, or excessive sleeping late.”
It’s beginning to feel like he’s shuffling his way through the seven deadly sins, in ascending order of my favourites.
Even with with these restrictions and a packed schedule of “proper activities” our characters manage to derail the tour and turn it into something more suitable for themselves. There is never a dull moment in this novel. From the moment the characters arrive in France the novel takes off at a dead sprint, taking you and the characters along on the most ridiculous road trip imaginable. From high society parties at Versailles to being kidnapped by pirates our heroes have one hell of a time trying to get themselves home.
Speaking of our heroes, I love all of them. Monty is a lot of fun and since the novel is from his perspective you get to know him pretty well. He means well but has a hard time expressing himself. Instead he chooses to hide himself behind a rakish exterior. He tends to act before he can thin a situation through, and that tends to make the situations he finds himself in even worse. Over the course of the novel he has to come to terms with his short sighted nature and learn to tell others what he really wants and feels. Monty has a wicked sense of humour that makes you forgive him for his worst qualities. You both fall in love with him and want him to be your best friend.
Then there is Felicity, who is a delight. Felicity is only accompanying them for the first leg of the tour as she is being sent to a finishing school (much to her horror). She’s free spirited at a time when women had few choices for their future. When you meet her she always has her nose in a book. Monty refers to her as a spinster waiting to happen. Yet Felicity has her own plans. She harbours a secret desire to become a doctor and throughout the novel shows that she has the skill to make her dreams a reality. Out of the three main characters she is the most level headed. Though she still possesses a sense of humour than can compete with her brother’s.
Finally there is Percy. He’s kindhearted, patient and just good. Percy is the embodiment of sunshine and rainbows. He’s being raised by his aunt and uncle, then only piece of his father that he possesses is a violin. Percy’s darker skin would damn him in English high society, but because of his aunt and uncle’s standing he has been given a place. Monty is completely unaware of some of the difficulties Percy faces and over the course of the novel this insensitivity starts to bubble to the surface.
The best part of the novel is the relationship between Monty and Percy. The two of them grew up together and have been best friend for as long as they both can remember. Lee shows the lived in nature of their relationship through their dialogue. You can feel how close they are and sense all the inside jokes that they have with one another.
The only problem is, Monty has fallen madly in love with Percy and has been hiding it for over a year. As he describes:
“The great tragic love story of Percy and me is neither great nor truly a love story, and is tragic only for its single-sidedness. It is also not an epic monolith that has plagued me since boyhood, as might be expected. Rather, it is simply the tale of how two people can be important to each other their whole lives, and then, one morning, quite without meaning to, one of them wakes to find that importance has been magnified into a sudden and intense desire to put his tongue in the other’s mouth.
A long, slow slide, then a sudden impact.”
Monty is practically beside himself with how in love with Percy he is. His little asides to the reader are hilarious and heart warming. They can be frustrating as well. The novel plays up the whole will they won’t they to an almost annoying effect. Monty never thinks that Percy could feel the same way. The two of them are both giving off signals but neither are noticing. You want to yell at both of them to be truthful and tell the other how they really feel.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue isn’t all fun and games. During the witty dialogue and fast paced adventure, the characters are dealing with and working through a wide variety of issues. Some of them still extremely relevant and topical today. Sexism, racism, abelism, abuse and homophobia are all explored.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was a fun ride. If you’re a sucker for Victorian inspired fiction than I recommend you pick this one up. I would also recommend listening to the audiobook because the narrator’s delivery is pitch perfect.
I’m looking forward to the sequel The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. It’s set to come out in October 2018 and follows Felicity. Not much about the plot is known yet other than it features a science girl gang. I’m so excited.