Rather, it is simply the tale of how two people can be important to each other their whole lives, and then, one morning, quite without meaning to, one of them wakes to find that importance has been magnified into a sudden and intense desire to put his tongue in the other’s mouth. ~ Henry (“Monty”) Montague
I can’t begin to express how much I loved The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. This is not just an LGBT romance – it’s a wild, funny, adventurous and often harrowing romp through 18th century Europe. This book absolutely wrecked me in the most delightful and unexpected ways, and I could gush on and on about how much I loved it.
The blurb is as follows:
A young bisexual British lord embarks on an unforgettable Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend/secret crush. An 18th-century romantic adventure for the modern age written by This Monstrous Thing author Mackenzi Lee—Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets the 1700s.
Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are 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.
So Monty 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, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.
Introducing Henry (aka “Monty”)
The story takes place in the 18th century (around 1720, I believe) and revolves around Henry Montague, who is known as “Monty” by those closest to him. Monty, the spoiled, reckless and egotistical son of Lord Earl Montague, has a reputation for being a flirtatious self-centered “rake” and a rogue, much to the chagrin of his domineering father. In addition to heavy drinking, gambling and being overly “generous with his affections”, Monty is also known for bringing both ladies and lads into his bedroom — quite scandalous behavior for the 18th century England, especially given that sodomy was still illegal and severely punished during this time-period.
During the opening chapters, we learn of his contentious relationship with his father, but we quickly learn that there is more than what we see at the surface, especially Monty cringes and draws back every time his father lifts his hand. It doesn’t take a lot of detective work to see there’s some abuse going on.
There’s also a boy that Monty is especially sweet on, a neighbor who has been by Monty’s side for years. The only thing, is that this boy doesn’t know how Monty feels, and perhaps fearing rejection, Monty has no plans on telling him. As such, a good part of the story revolves around Monty’s longing for . . .
The mild-mannered sweet Percy, Monty’s longtime best friend and the object of his affection, is an adorable character. It’s worth mentioning that Percy is biracial and because of this, encounters difficulties that the privileged Monty doesn’t always understand or cannot relate to.
The two of them, though not romantically involved initially, seem to have a special relationship, though Monty finds it more and more difficult merely being in Percy’s presence and finds himself falling even more desperately in love with him. This quote by Monty (thought to himself) sums it up:
Oh, by the way, could you perhaps not touch me the way you always have because each time it puts fresh splinters in my heart?
After a brief introduction to the characters, the novel begins to take off as Monty, Monty’s younger sister Felicity and Percy are about to embark on a Grand Tour of Europe. Monty considers this trip as the opportunity of “sewing his wild oats” and looks forward to a year of debauchery with Percy. His father has different ideas, however. He assigns a guide called a bear-leader to ensure that Monty doesn’t embarrass the Earl — and to make sure that Monty brings no lads to his bedroom.
So the Tour begins not quite as exciting as Monty had hoped, being under the watchful eye of the bear-leader, and consists mainly of museum exhibits and evenings at the opera. But this changes one night when he’s invited to a high-society party at Versailles where he quickly makes an enemy of the Duke of Bourbon. The evening ends with Monty running naked through the gardens of Versailles being pursued by the palace guards.
And Then Things Get REALLY Interesting
Rushing away the next morning to avoid the inevitable fallout of Monte’s ungentlemanly behavior of the evening before, their carriage is stopped by Highwayman, the 18th-century version of bandits. Henry, Monty, and Percy manage to escape but they have no idea whether their bear-leader survived the attack.
With no luggage and no money, the trio makes it to a lively fair in the next town, where they learn that it is actually King Louis’s men who are pursuing them because of an “innocent” object that Percy stole from the Duke of Bourbon’s office the evening before.
Pirates, Alchemists, and Zombies!
Once the three are on the run, the adventure really begins as their days are fraught with peril and treachery. They get captured by pirates, encounter murderous alchemists, get arrested, end up on a sinking island and..yes, even encounter a zombie-ish character. But to go into any more detail would dangerously head into spoiler territory.
But let’s just say that the novel suddenly transforms into a nail-biting, page-turning, heart-in-your-throat wild ride at this point and we learn that nothing is quite as it seems; especially in regards to our main three characters, as there are quite a few surprises in store for the reader.
But It’s Not All Fun and Games
Though the book is a humorous and quirky romp, the story does touch on some serious issues such as racism, homophobia, PTSD, sexuality, mental health, disabilities, abuse, misogyny, privilege and the reckless misuse of power. The author flawlessly weaves these themes into the story, however, without diminishing the overall humorous feel or levity of the novel.
To start with, the characters were amazing! Each character went through a major transformation by the end of the novel and there were no cardboard cutouts here; every character was well-developed, realistic and compelling. It was a treat watching them interact and observing the sometimes tense dynamics between them.
The narration, told from Monty’s point of view, was exquisite and the author really did an excellent job of portraying the time-period of the novel and Monty’s social position (also his more-than-occasional daftness). Insufferable as Monty was at times, he quickly wormed his way into my heart.
The relationship between Monty and Percy was also expertly done and tender, with their romance evolving slowly along with their personal transformation throughout the novel. Felicity’s character was amazing – a strong and intelligent woman with a scientific mind for medicine, who was born a couple of centuries before her time. In fact, I’d love to see an entire book from Felicity’s point of view.
All in all, the Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was a delightful beautifully-written witty story with excellent characters, perfect pacing, an ever-twisting and surprising storyline, lots of diversity and plenty of heart. This was a most exhilarating journey and one that I’m grateful I took. Recommended!
You can check out The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue HERE