After The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (my review here!), Mackenzi Lee is back with a highly-anticipated sequel that exceeded all my expectations.
The Montague siblings tradition of getting into impossible scrapes continues, this time with Felicity Montague in top billing. The young woman, a secondary character in The Gentleman’s Guide to Virtue and Vice, is now in Edinburgh struggling to convince teaching hospitals to admit her as a pupil. When the opportunity arises for her to meet and be mentored by her role model, a talented physician, she joins forces with a mysterious young sailor and renews acquaintances with a childhood friend. The trio embarks in an incredible adventure, with strange sea creatures, forgotten maps…and obviously petticoats and pirates.
My heart was yearning for stories with powerful women striking powerful friendships and lo and behold my prayers have been answered. Too dramatic? Maybe. But this book is such a perfect love letter to female empowerment. The lead trio, comprised of Felicity, her childhood friend Johanna, and Sim, a sailor/pirate with inscrutable motives, is a force to be reckoned with, each of them in a different way. The story is told from Felicity’s point of view, as she grows and learns and expands her worldview. The prickly (as a cactus!) Montague sibling goes through a beautiful character development arc that I enjoyed immensely. I couldn’t help but think that younger me would have needed this book, these specific themes.
Lee gives each of her lead protagonists an ocean of depth. I was thrilled with the North African/ Muslim representation – Sim speaks Darija, talks about kaftans and says bismillah before eating her meals. It made me smile to see part of my culture represented through a brave, golden-hearted character (and not, you know, a terrorist).
Speaking of characters still, Monty manages to steal every scene he was in! Even as only a “cameo” presence in this sequel, he and Percy were a key part of my enjoyment of the book. Their life is not easy; Lee didn’t sugarcoat the reality of a half-Black epileptic musician and a disinherited nobleman living as a couple in 18th-century London, but nor did she go down the “grim-porn” route disguised as gritty realism: they have found each other, they are stronger together, and they have a community that welcomes them. Their dynamic, and Monty’s relationship with his sister, provide the perfect touch of sweet and comedic relief.
As with Gentleman’s Guide, the plot is breakneck and there isn’t a second of boredom. The book is deliciously readable as we accompany Felicity, Johanna, and Sim in their cross-continental adventure with proper villains, a proper quest, and the proper amount of fantasy elements to justify my posting the review in an SFF blog. The story manages to be the perfect blend of over-the-top fun and in-depth exploration of women’s solidarity and empowerment. Just what the doctor prescribed for these strange days…
There is no doubt that I would recommend this book to everyone, and especially if you’re looking for an entertaining and moving adventure tale with brave young women carving up a path in a men’s world. Featuring pirates. And petticoats.
Travis: I loved just about everything about this book. While it is a direct sequel to Gentleman’s Guide, you can pick this up first without struggle. Everything you need to know from the first book is covered here and most of the plot from the first is left unspoiled (but these are character-driven books anyway). I haven’t had this warm fuzzy feeling after reading a book since Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series. The central theme is that of finding one’s self. Unlike many books featuring a “strong female character”, the message here isn’t that women have to be physically powerful or conform to any of a select few choices of “strong” behavior. It’s even in the title: women can be adventurous pirates and wear frilly petticoats. One doesn’t exclude the other.
Jenia: I don’t even know what to say other than that I totally co-sign what my co-bloggers have said! Both books are a delight, and I honestly feel jealous of and happy for young people who get to read it when they’re young! But even at my Very Old Age of 24 it’s just a very fun read with a lot of heart; Felicity’s mantra of I deserve to be here, I deserve to exist will especially resonate with everyone who doesn’t quite fit the mold. Only question: will we get a book 3??
P.S. Also as I also listened to the audiobook, I had a lot of fun scribbling silly fanart for the book: