Henry Montague you absolute heartbreaker!
For far too long, I have not had a #1 favorite book character but, guys?! I think I found him. Deadly charming, sinfully good-looking with wit as sharp as a blade and a tounge that gets him in trouble in more ways than one, that is Henry (aka Monty), the protagonist of Mackenzie Lee’s latest novel A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.
Now, if you see a book online for the first time and it is described as “a gay regency novel” and has 5 stars, what do you do? (Hint: the only acceptable answer is ‘run to the bookstore at warp speed’).
Without spoiling anything, I’ll tell you right now: this book hit me like a ton of bricks – in the best way. Monty and his (boy)friend Percy embark on a grand tour of Europe as it was tradition for young, wealthy lads in 18th century Britain. For a year, they would visit big, culturally overflowing cities in France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Soon after their departure, a rather unseemly incident between Monty and a young lady at the French palace had occured, causing the entire group – Monty, Percy, Monty’s little sister Felicity and their chaperone – to cut their trip short. Or so they thought before it turns out that Monty’s indecent behavior has caused a chain reaction of trouble that would follow the crew all over the continent.
Lee captures the readers’ hearts with imaginative, ridiculously lovable characters who don’t mirror stereotypical tropes about sexuality, race or gender, which is just so goddamn refreshing! Our hero isn’t particularly heroic; his love interest is neither all swooning and heart-eyes nor the tsundere type of hot-and-cold; the pesky little sibling isn’t just there for pranks and condescending remarks. Every single one of them has their own plotline that is expertly woven into the overarching story and doesn’t seem forced or overpowering. Lee seems to have brilliant insticts when it comes to the timing of scenes and how to alternate the excitement of adventure with the tranquility of romance or a good, hearty rapid-fire dialogue. Never did I have a moment while reading this story when I thought it was dragging on too long about a certain topic or the action was confusing.
With mid-18th century Europe as the backdrop for this novel, Lee’s exploration of what it was like to live as a misfit then, and how it appears to be unsurprisingly yet intriguingly similar to today, will surely make this novel timeless.
Speaking of time, the language is this book has so much flair! Of course, clothing items and certain objects are called by their accurate names but also the way Monty chooses to express himself – with a stylish, eloquent and highly sarcastic cornucopia of slightly outdated-sounding phrases – only adds to the already overflowing magic of A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. I know, I keep gushing about this absolutely and in every way stunning protagonist. But how can you not fall head over heels for someone who appreciates a good inapropriate joke and utters the phrase:
“Before the end of our first month in Paris, the violent biblical deaths we are seeing immortalized in paintings and hung in an endless procession of private collections are beginning to look rather appealing.”
Monty’s lack of interest in and obvious disdain for anything wholesome and good is understandable in light of his upbringing. However, it starkly contrasts with his desire to move heaven and earth for the one(s) he loves. Percy’s well being becomes Monty’s obsession which leads to lies and betrayal and an absolutely beautiful, at times heart-breaking love story. But Monty is also petite, a heavy drinker and always looking to do some fun
Percy seems to be the polar opposite. He is tall, calm, respectful and tends to keep his thoughts about other people to himself. And yet he is second to none when it comes to showing affection. The two boys’ relationship might be difficult and complex, to say the least, but no matter how far Monty spirals into the darkness of his own Whiskey-fuelled mind, Percy will make sure to be there for his life-long best friend (cause yes, we’re happily accepting this one stereotype).
Felicity is another crucial piece to the story with her sharp intellect that leaves educated men (remember, this is the 18th century) with their jaws on the floor. Refusing to give in to a life that has been planned for her by other people, she jumps at every chance at an adventure, albeit reluctantly at first. She might not be the story’s focal point but if by the end you’re not rooting for all three of those wonderful, flawed, ultimately kind-hearted people, you’ll just have to read the whole thing again. (Also, according to Lee’s Twitter feed, you should keep your eyes on the horizon for a Felicity-centered sequel! YEYAH!)
Simply amazing. From the cover art to the well researched background to the vivid descriptions of people and surroundings. The only flaw I find is that, at times, it feels a tad juvenile. But hey, it’s a YA novel, after all.
No spoilers this time, as promised, because I can’t tell you how much you NEED to read this one for yourself!