Today I am so excited to bring you a Buddy Review for The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue where Jay and Camille chat about the book. Before we start, a quick overview on the story.
Henry “Monty” Montague likes drinking, gambling, and lots of bed partners–both men and women. Monty is now heading off for his Grand Tour of Europe, and he hopes that his life of vice and revelry will continue during his year away. This is especially important as his best friend Percy is coming along, and after the year is over, Percy will be headed to law school in The Netherlands. The young men have been best friends forever and Monty can’t imagine not having Percy in his life. The fact that he is secretly in love with Percy makes it even harder to part. So Monty plans for his Grand Tour to be his last hurrah before real life settles in–Percy to school and Monty having to take on the dreaded role of learning the life of a respectable lord and managing his estate under the eyes of his cruel father.
Monty’s plans are thrown off when his father makes it clear that Monty has had all the chances he is going to get with his wild behavior. He expects Monty to be calm and respectable and spend his time on his Tour at cultural pursuits and making connections for when he takes over the title. If Monty doesn’t get his act together, he will be disinherited. Having little choice but to tow the line, Monty heads off with Percy, their chaperone Mr. Lockwood, and his younger sister Felicity, whom they will be dropping off at finishing school along the way.
Things start off pretty much as feared, with boring trips to museums and galleries, while Monty pines away for Percy. But one night Monty’s impulsiveness leads to a bad decision, one that puts them all in danger and sets up an adventure like Monty could never have anticipated. Soon they are the subject of a manhunt across Europe, facing highwaymen and pirates, long nights on the road, mysterious alchemists, a visit to jail, and more. Along the way, Monty learns more about himself than he thought possible, both good and bad, and begins to figure out what kind of man he really wants to be. And if he is lucky, he will make it through the Tour unscathed and with Percy at his side.
And now, here is our chat…
Jay: Ok, so before we get too far into discussion, what is your quick impression? Loved it? Hated it? Somewhere in the middle? Want to marry it and have lots of book babies?
Camille: Loved with huge reservations! But I wouldn’t mind if it had tons of book babies…might help me cope with the reservations.
J: LOL, I totally loved it without reservations, so I can’t wait to hear your thoughts. So I think you can’t say much about this book without first talking about Monty because he is really the heart and soul of it all. And I totally loved him. I loved that Lee gives him such a great journey from sort of a lovable rogue who is completely self absorbed, to someone who has some self awareness and really grows over the course of the story.
C: I agree completely with your assessment…and therein lies part of my reservation about the book. As wonderful and charmingly rakish as Monty is, I experienced varying degrees of wariness about how he outshone everyone else. I wouldn’t try to change anything about Monty, but try to bring the other characters into the limelight more.
J: Yes, he is definitely the focal point of the story. I think as much as it is about the adventures he gets up to with Felicity and Percy, the book is really about his journey. So I get what you are saying.
I loved the moment when he has this realization about how self absorbed he is, that Percy and Felicity are strong and capable and he just kind of floats along doing his own thing. And that he doesn’t want to be that person anymore. It takes him a while to make that transition, but I enjoyed seeing that develop over the book.
C: I didn’t really see him make that transition…it felt like he stopped at awareness. On the other hand, I’m sure it would be equally awkward to have him turn complete selfless.
J: Interesting. I guess I felt more of an epiphany from him than you did.
C: The other characters sort of feed into his sense of exceptionalism as well, barring his father. I can bust out my specific examples if that helps illustrate…
J: Sure! Go for it!
C: I think it’s very well established how self-absorbed Monty is. For the first 200 pages, it’s basically a self-love fest and defiance to do what he wants to do. But then Percy offers a *no one knows you like I do* line that is not supported by the previous 200 pages.
Also there is a point that reminds me of what I’ve called “white savior syndrome” from which Monty suffers–albeit he does it because he seems to truly be “color blind,” but I would have hoped that once Percy calls him out on the reality of BEING biracial, Percy would try to view the world as a biracial person might experience it rather than offer an empty “but YOU know you’re not less than them.” It’s unclear to me how much Percy is actually put out by his treatment (for obvious reasons) at the hands of society, but once Percy makes it clear to Monty that he FEELS the discrimination, I felt like Monty kind of brushes it off.
Finally, there is also a blatant reference to Monty’s “exceptionalism” from Scipio. A bit on the nose when literally the entire book is all about Monty.
J: Yes, I definitely see what you are saying. He improves over time in his self absorption, but it is definitely an imperfect journey. I guess I enjoyed seeing that struggle more than you did. I also totally agree with you on the race thing. I definitely want to chat about that.
C: Yes, do tell!
J: Because I found that to be a really interesting aspect of the story. To catch folks up, as you said, Percy is biracial and being raised by his aunt and uncle. Monty pretty much ignores this. As you noted, it is hard to tell how much is he is color blind to Percy, and how much is that he is oblivious to what Percy deals with. But I really enjoyed how the story touched on this issue throughout the book. Percy is high born, but he faces subtle and overt racism throughout the story. In some ways it is used to highlight how clueless Monty can be about what Percy faces. But it was also interesting from a historical perspective.
C: From his own family, no less!
J: Right. The comment about how he can’t eat with them when they have guests? Heart breaking for him.
C: Same. As you say, Monty’s aloofness about Percy being biracial serves to show he likes Percy for being Percy…but now that I think on it, I didn’t KNOW Percy was biracial at first because there were no markers. But once the cat was out of the bag, Monty’s narration blatantly refers to such markers like how his skin looks under the moonlight and so on.
J: Along similar lines, I also liked how the story deals with Monty being bisexual. Specifically his conversations with Felicity. Because Felicity is pretty much the most bad ass awesome heroine I have read in a while (and I want to come back to her). But they have an interesting conversation about the fact that he likes men. And as open and worldly as she is about women’s gender roles, etc, she doesn’t really get it. She doesn’t understand that men can fall in love, have an emotional connection. She thinks of sodomy as a vice, like drinking or gambling. Something sinful that you do for fun. She even says to him “Sodomy has nothing to do with an attraction. It’s an act. A sin.” So I really like how they address this with Monty explaining his attraction to men and how he feels about Percy. But I also like that Felicity doesn’t fully come to terms with it right away. It is still beyond her understanding fully.
C: I have blinders on when it comes to stuff like this unless it presents a real plot point (well, a plot point between romantic leads). He’s clearly sexually attracted to both men and women and we see him interact sexually with women…but because I’m reading this from a m/m reviewer POV and expecting Percy/Monty…I just sort of zoned out over the bisexual elements. Except, of course, this discussion you mention between him and his sister. You are correct, it was a humbling reminder that Monty is more complex than his exterior image seems (though he’s got “definitely available and definitely high-class flakey” down to a science)…not to mention how interesting it was to read about Felicity’s inability to understand Monty’s honest attractions/emotions.
(and YAY for not just making Felicity a lesbian…personally, I thought she was more asexual) [Note from Jay: Reading the author notes for Felicity’s upcoming book, she does appear to be asexual]
J: Ok, so let’s go on to Felicity. I absolutely adored her. I love a heroine who can kick some ass, and though she is young (15, I believe), she is so strong and smart and self possessed. I love that Lee gave us such a strong heroine. Honesty, she is tougher than both boys put together I think.
C: Pffft, girls are predisposed to be tougher than boys. She is super clever, though. Hiding her anatomy books in romance novel covers.
J: Yes, OMG when she starts giving herself stitches in her arm and Monty is like Felicity, are you sewing yourself shut?!?
C: Girl’s got mad skills and she knows it. But that seems to make sense. It reminds me a bit of the emotion behind…er….Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice! (please don’t revoke my reviewers’ rights for forgetting Jane freaking Austen!)
J: Yes. And I like how she is a contrast to Monty. She is so much more self aware than he is. And it kind of highlights the idea that he has this entitlement that comes from being a white wealthy man of that era. The world revolves around him. Whereas she is forced to exist in this very small box and she pushes against it. So she sees much more than he does.
C: On that note, I wish there’d been some more clarity about what Felicity got up to when the on-page adventure came to a close.
J: Actually, funny you say that because I kind of liked that we didn’t know. That she has an adventure to come and they leave her with this choice as to what she is going to do. Basically continue living a life of freedom and adventure, or else returning to her life as a “respectable lady.” I guess I was cool with that because she is getting her own book in October, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. No blurb yet, but it says the book features “travel, pirates, and a science girl gang.” SCIENCE GIRL GANG! Be still my heart! So maybe Lee wanted to wait for Felicity’s book for us to find out what choice she made.
C: Ah! I didn’t know about the companion book. I guess I’m just a purist in that regard…if you go to the trouble of creating such a well defined character, why leave them just dangling at the end?
As far as being asexual, I thought she might be, given her comment about not really enjoying kissing Dante (to get the key) and much preferring coercion (to get Monty safely out of jail, wasn’t it?)
J: Yep, I get it.
Ok, my last area I wanted to mention is that the book really surprised me because I had no idea what to expect. I thought it would be a romance set amidst the Grand Tour with some fun and hijinks, but I wasn’t expecting it to turn into a wild adventure with pirates and highway men and chases around Europe and alchemy and all that craziness. I love that things go off the rails and the three of them have to navigate it all.
The story is definitely more adventure than romance, I’ll note for readers. The relationship between Percy and Monty has a full romance arc and is resolved at the end. And there is no doubt that Monty is hot for Percy. But that is definitely the secondary plot element and no actual sex beyond some kisses.
C: Oh, but those kisses were so sweet!
Hm. I didn’t really have expectations per se, but I didn’t NOT get wholly surprised by the turns their adventure took. But I owe that sense of being able to utterly roll with the punches to Lee’s admiral ability to build a quality plot. Each element is folded into the storyline with great care and while a review/highlights may make the story sound over-the-top fantastic, it doesn’t read like that. Perhaps there is par to the genius in Monty’s over-the-top character…he was BORN to get into these sorts of situations and then cunningly get his way back out.
J: Yes, I agree with you. Monty is an over-the-top guy, so it’s befitting he’d get into crazy adventures and lots of trouble.
C: And it really is consistently reflected in his mannerism, his descriptions of the lands they visit, his dialogue.
J: The fact that he leaps before he looks all the time.
C: Haha! Yes!
You know, the thing I have in my notes is that I pretty much started off hating Monty. Goes to show his character wears you down.
J: LOL, I actually loved him from the start. But I like that he grew, because if he stayed like the beginning it would have been disappointing.
Ok, so that is all I wanted to cover. Anything else you want to throw in before we wrap up?
C: Just the…health issues? I found it interesting that this is the thing that really drives the plot once they strike out on their own…but we only see Percy have a single episode.
J: I think that the health problem driving the plot makes sense to me because it is something intense enough to kind of get Monty to have this moment of enlightenment and start his journey. He needs something important outside of himself and this give him that impetus to start thinking beyond what he wants and needs and to consider others. And Percy is his most favorite person of all so that makes sense to me.
C: I guess my “big” WTF about the health issues is that is opens the door for more of the “Monty is the best thing ever” tripe. Percy says Monty is THE ONLY PERSON who’s stayed after he has an episode…even though we’ve painstakingly read about how Felicity is the one to take charge and see that Percy is safe.
J: Yep, I see what you are saying there.
C: I see what you’re saying. it’s sort of unfortunate that Monty needs something like this…but I think you’re right because the health issues are not visible like Percy’s biracialness. It sort of *forces* Monty to address his motives…and this is something he struggles with throughout the book. Not that he is attracted to Percy, but how that attraction manifests and how Percy interprets Monty*s motives.
J: Right. Does he care because he is genuinely worried about others, or because of how it affects him.
C: Yes! I loved this aspect of the story because it’s not just *resolved* neatly. It crops up time and again and drives romantic angst between our two romantic leads.
J: I liked that he is imperfect and often falls on the wrong side of that, even as the book comes together.
Ok, so last thoughts? What’s your rating?
C: Oh, let’s split the difference and go with a 4.25 from me.
J: Nice. I have to say that it was a five-star read for me. I couldn’t put it down. But I think the areas that didn’t work for you actually totally did for me. So that is why I could rate it higher.
So this was so much fun! Can’t wait for Felicity’s book, and Lee also says there will be a Monty and Percy short coming out before that. So I can’t wait for those!