The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee is the most fun I've had reading a book in ages. I really wasn't expecting to enjoy it so much - heck, I hadn't even planned on reading it! But then I got an Audible membership and saw that the audiobook was narrated by Christian Coulson (aka Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets) who I had such a crush on in childhood that I had to give it a go. Coulson's narration really made the book for me, he definitely nailed Monty's overall tone and his delivery of some of the lines made me laugh out loud while listening (which made me look pretty crazy on the subway).
"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 travelling 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."
Okay so first off, as I mentioned above, I pretty much bought this audiobook because the narrator was a former Harry Potter actor I had a crush on when I was twelve. I know, kind of a sad reason, but whatever. I really didn't have any interest in reading this book, because i thought it was going to be overhyped, but I am so so glad I did. I've been trying to get back into audiobooks and I am happy to say that Coulson reinforced this decision because he was absolutely delightful in his narration. His voice for the main character, Monty, was spot-on for a spoiled rich aristocrat, and I found he also managed to do a variety of accents and voice differentiations to make all the characters in the novel (who range from Brits, to Spaniards, to French and beyond) sound unique. I would highly recommend this on audiobook to anyone looking for a fun listen.
For the actual book itself, it was simply so much fun. I know a lot of reviewers have said this, but I whole-heartedly agree that this book was a fun romp that I delighted in reading. Let me just say - the first chapter had me completely hooked on this book. Reading (or in my case hearing) Monty describe his morning, after a crazy night out in the first chapter, was so spot-on to my own college years that I was hysterically laughing. It was so hilariouslyaccurate and I knew, from that very first chapter, that I was in for a fantastically fun read.
The real reason I loved this book was the characters. I absolutely adored Henry "Monty" Montague. Monty is one of the best, most distinct, and amazing characters I have read this year. Monty is, at his core, a privileged douchebag. Let's be honest - he's an ass - something his friends and family tell him constantly. But he's such a charming douche that you can't help but love him and all his crazy antics. Throughout the first half of the book I just kept thinking to myself "Wow, Monty is the worst, but I also want to be his best friend." Because I do. I want to be Monty's friend and go on crazy adventures with him. He is such a real character - he is flawed in so many ways - and yet through the novel we see him grow and improve while still retaining some of his negative characteristics. He matures throughout the course of the novel, but not in a way that makes his character less lovable or fun. Monty has to address his privilege many times in the novel - and yet the author makes a point of showing he can never fully grasp it because of his status in society and the colour of his skin and goddammit it was SO REAL. So yeah, basically Monty is one of my favourite characters of the year and I want to party with him.
I also adored the rest of the cast of characters (except for two - but that will be down below). Percy is a sweet cinnamon roll and I want him to be protected at all costs - ONLY GOOD THINGS FOR PERCY. Felicity is a great female character, she's very Hermione-esque in that she's smarter than pretty much everyone else in the book and she knows it, and acts like it. I'm excited to see what happens to her character in the future - as I believe the next book centers on Felicity's adventures.
I also liked how progressive the novel was in talking about things that we still deal with today - but within the historical context of the novel. There were interesting discussions about not just bisexuality (so refreshing to see in a male main character), but also ableism and illness, homophobia, racism, and domestic abuse. There were even hints at asexuality, which is something I am not used to reading about nor familiar with so having read two books this year that have hinted or addressed it has been really great (the other book is Every Heart a Doorway). I do think that sometimes the author skewed a little too modern in tone for the time period the novel is set in - but this is a YA novel so I think that should be expected. If this were an adult novel I might expect a more realistic depiction of how homosexuality was dealt with - because it definitely wouldn't have been as casual as it was for Monty and Percy.
Overall the story was fun and exciting, with some of the best characters I've read in a while. I can't remember the last time I was excited to continue a book because I absolutely HAD to know what happened next. This book reminded me of another fun read with a historical basis - My Lady Jane - and I highly recommended that book to anyone who enjoyed The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue.
I don't really have a lot of complaints to be honest - there are probably three small ones. Firstly, I did find the story was a bit slow in some part. Yes it was an exciting adventure story, but I did find that some parts (like pretty much most of the chapters set in Spain) were rather tedious and I was simply waiting for the story to move on to the next part of the adventure. I think that perhaps some editing could have been used to cut the book down - it was rather long - and maybe the editing would've taken out the like three chapters that I really didn't feel were necessary.
Secondly, part of the reason I didn't like the Spain trip in the book, was because I hated Helena and Dante as characters. I just couldn't get behind Helena at all - she was a poor villain and a poor character I think. I also hated Dante - but I think that may be because Christian Coulson voice Dante in the most irritating manner (which is my only complaint with his narration). Overall I felt like we spent far too long with Helena and Dante, who really served very little purpose and could easily have been much more tertiary characters. I would've preferred more chapters with the pirate crew, or with the Duke of Bourbon and the french court than with Helena and Dante.
My final complaint is about the ending. I am obviously thrilled there is a happy ending (did you expect any less from YA?) but I did feel like, as a realist, the ending wasn't entirely satisfying. *SPOILER- DON'T READ IF YOU HATE SPOILERS* I mean.... how are Monty, Percy and Felicity going to get money? They've run away and have no manageable skills and .... I just don't see how it can realistically work out. Seriously, when Monty laid it out to Percy how hard it would be to run away I completely agreed. So while I'm happy everyone got the ending they liked, I do find the realist in me wondering about the logistics of it. Also, the ending did not solve what happened to the Pirates and my beloved Skippio (is that how you spell it? Listening to an audiobook means I have no idea how the name of the Pirate Captain is spelled) and if he got his letters of marq. Hopefully in the next book Mackenzi Lee lays out what happened to the Pirates and our three main characters, and how they are making a living and enjoying their life without luxury - and I hope it shows a realistic depicton of what turning their back on all that money is like. I can't see Monty adjusting to that amazingly well.
I love Monty. LOVE HIM. I am so happy I picked this book up on a whim because I absolutely adored it. I can not wait to continue the series, and I am especially excited to see how Felicity progresses. I am also hoping to get more closure on Monty and Percy and the happy ending of the novel. I NEED MORE. Also I really hope they get Christian Coulson or someone equally as charming to be the narrator for the next audiobook because that would very much be appreciated!
Rating: 4/5 Stars