I don’t know why it took me so long to read this book, it’s exactly the kind of fun, adventure novel I enjoy, and the strong LGBT representation is a wonderful bonus. The representation doesn’t stop there, Monty’s best friend and love interest is also a person of colour, and one of the main characters lives with a disability (it’s a plot point, so I won’t say who, or what condition they have). Felicity is a great way to introduce themes of feminism to the book, and in general The Gentleman’s Guide doesn’t shy away from making Monty (and through him, the reader) realise his privilege, and the way his decisions affect those around him. Part coming-of-age, part romance, part steampunk-adventure, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is an entertaining story of a lovable scoundrel coming to terms with his future, and the world he lives in.
First, some trigger warnings. There are some mentions or examples of depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, violence (including domestic violence), slavery, racism and homophobia within this book. If you’re sensitive to issues of that nature, The Gentleman’s Guide may not be for you.
Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of 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.
Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he 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 that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.
Despite the hefty list of sensitive topics, this book was just fun. A little unrealistic at times, sure, but the characterisation was done well and thoroughly, and I enjoyed the way Monty was a flawed, good-hearted person that slowly and organically improved over the course of the book. I really enjoyed the way Monty’s bisexuality was represented, and the way he didn’t choose to deny his sexuality and focus only on his attraction to women, even though this would have been the safer choice. His relationship with Felicity was believable, as I find all too often sibling relationships in fiction seem cheesy or unrealistic. The way Monty and Felicity interacted was the perfect blend of protective and scornful, and I loved Felicity and Percy’s interactions for the same reason. Reading the dialogue, both spoken and implied, really gave you the sense of two people who knew each other well, and were connected by their shared love of, and exasperation towards, the same person.
Monty was a charming character, flawed in believable ways, redeemable in every way that mattered. Seeing him become aware of, and work to erase, his flaws was heart-warming and satisfying. I’d say the plot of this book was definitely sidelined at times by the personal development/angst of the main characters, but the main storyline still drove tension consistently to the final showdown. I was happy with the way the plot resolved, and there are obvious (but not unsatisfying/cliff-hanger-y) ways for Felicity’s book to continue.
Percy was a great character, and an amazing foil for Monty, and I enjoyed the way that his more cautious approach to life was necessitated by the world and discrimination he faced, as opposed to Monty. This book explained intersectionality in a way that never seemed condescending, and I imagine Felicity’s book will more fully explore themes of that nature, particularly regarding women’s rights (and perhaps challenges faced by freed slaves or working class people).
I’d recommend this book to people who enjoy Gail Carriger’s work, particularly the Finishing School and Custard Protocol series (being YA, they match the tone of The Gentleman’s Guide a little more closely). The tone and general fun feel of the book also reminded me of Kady Cross’s Steampunk Chronicles and Kate Locke’s Immortal Empire series (Kate Locke/Kady Cross are the same author). For more mainstream comparisons, I think those who enjoy Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter books would enjoy the quick wit and entertaining world of The Gentleman’s Guide. In general, I’d recommend The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue to anyone who enjoys fun, light-hearted fantasy, that explores but doesn’t dwell on more serious themes, and has a refreshing amount of diversity.