The Book Carousel is an in-blog reading game where we secretly recommended a book to one co-blogger, then we each review the book we get. My thanks to the recommender (Jenia), who is shrouded in mystery (Jenia), whose identity will forever remain a puzzle (it was Jenia); it was the perfect book for me.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a historical and romance fantasy set in 18th-century Europe. There are so many things I loved about this book, and I’ll try to be coherent and not just gush gush gush.
Lord Henry Montague, “Monty”, expects his Grand Tour to be a long series of carousing in the company of Percy, his best friend and one-sided love interest. But his father saddles him with a glorified babysitter and a threat: his heir should straighten up or else not bother coming back home. Monty endures a sedate visit to Paris, but a mishap during a ball in Versailles is the first step towards a dangerous adventure, involving highwaymen, pirates, alchemical secrets and a revised version of his Grand Tour he never anticipated.
The story is told from Monty’s first person point of view. He’s an earl’s son and a bit of a rake. But his actions are not a normal part of him sowing his wild oats, and rather a way for him to escape his demons. He suffers from deep emotional scars. He is bisexual in a world where sexual relationships with men can mean the death sentence. I adored Monty from the very beginning; his snark and wit made me connect immediately with his story. He can have cutting remarks and be oblivious to the hurt he inflicts with his behaviour to those who care for him, but he goes through a fantastic growth during the course of his adventures.
Percy is his best friend, and unrequited love interest. He is as quiet and soft-spoken as Monty is brash, and, as a music aficionado, is truly looking forward to the cultural Grand Tour his best friend is whining about. Percy is half-Black, which opens the topic of race relations in 18th-century Europe. The young man is subjected to diverse forms of discrimination and racism, from people refusing them service because of his presence to a 18th-century version of micro-aggressions, such as being constantly asked when he was brought from Africa. He’s always aware of the status his darker skin puts him in, even with his connections and his family’s prominence, which is heartbreaking.
Felicity is Monty’s younger sister, and the third member of their little group. She is supposed to enrol in finishing school, a dreadful prospect for a young woman more keen on stitching wounds than learning how to be a dutiful wife. She is very smart, witty and caring, and I’m looking forward to the sequel, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, that will have her in a starring role.
While the story is funny and seems pretty light at first, it has moments of depth. The book has a lot of heart, and the humorous tone doesn’t make it shallow, not in the least. The author doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, on the contrary; as I mentioned before, race relations are discussed pretty openly. Monty’s bisexuality is also a key topic; his heart-to-heart with his sister about it is an emotional moment in the book.
The fantasy aspect is relatively low-key: while the plot revolves around an alchemical component, the book is mostly adventure and historical fiction with a bit of a magic twist. The romance takes a fair share of the story and there is a lot of pining, angst and false starts. Percy and Monty make an amazing couple but it takes some time before they realise that.
I inhaled this book — read it in one sitting, which is pretty rare for me these days. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me go “awww”. I would definitely recommend it, and I’m putting the next one in my TBR.