Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue

One doesn’t often come across a Georgian novel that’s narrated purely from a male’s perspective. Not only is Mackenzie Lee’s writing a breath of fresh air, but it’s also incredibly clever and fun.

Henry Monty is your classic rake. He drinks, gambles, fornicates, and is determined to be as much of an embarrassment to his earl of a father as he can be. But with his charming dimples and title, he’s able to get away with almost everything…except his fondness for boys. Yes, Monty is homosexual, which during those times would have ended with him at the end of a hangman’s noose. Luckily, he simply gets kicked out of Eton for having an affair with a fellow student.

Accompanied by his best friend/love interest, Percy and his highly-opinionated sister, Felicity the three embark on the adventure of a lifetime. They gallivant across Europe after being accosted by highwaymen, chased by a villainous duke, captured by pirates and unravel a scientific mystery, only to truly discover themselves and what their priorities are in life.

This was truly a unique book. Most people can’t help loving a rake because beneath all the layers of cynicism and excessiveness there’s a heart of gold. And while Monty is absolutely lovable, he’s emotionally scarred from years of verbal and physical abuse. He’s not your typical hero. He’s not a large, strong, alpha male but rather a slight, short young man with an attractive face and an easy charm. He is a witty, self-deprecating hero who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Percy balances him out perfectly, and it’s incredibly sweet to read how their relationship unfolds as they step away from the friend-zone into lovers’ territory. Their love is built on years of solid friendship and mutual attraction, it’s slow-building, and incredibly satisfying when it comes to fruition.

Felicity doesn’t simply accept her brother sexual deviance, which I thought was very well written by the author because it would’ve been quite unrealistic otherwise. Instead, she tries to understand Monty’s point of view and the nature of his passions. With her own unconventional desire of becoming a physician denied because of her gender, Felicity slowly accepts that it’s simply the way he is. She is a very modern-thinking woman for her time, and she brings a sense of logic and stability to the trio.

Ms. Lee did a great job painting a picture of life in the early 1700s: the filth, stink, bad hygiene, and poor infrastructure were all featured in this novel. I also liked her nod to the famous Mother Clap’s Molly House, which was raided in 1726 and the patrons imprisoned or hanged. You don’t often read a book where the characters go almost the entire story with barely any money. In fact, most of their time is spent on finding unique ways of securing funds or living off the charity of others. Not what you’d expect from a story featuring a Viscount! A wonderful historical romance/adventure and I highly recommend it.

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