“Love may be a grand thing, but goddamn if it doesn’t take up more than its fair share of space inside a man.”
This book is just so. Fantastically. Fun. A perfect blend of adventuring across Europe, snappy humor, character development, and romance. The fact that said romance is between two young men, Monty and Percy, is a big added bonus.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is the story of Henry Montague, i.e. Monty, and his great European tour that goes chaotically awry when he steals from the French Duke of Bourbon. With his best friend, Percy, and his little sister Felicity in tow, Monty flees across Europe in search of an alchemical panacea. On the way, Monty struggles with unrequited love for Percy, a bit of a drinking problem, and his own self-destructive tendency to be a rake and a screw-up.
There is so much to love about this book; I don’t know where to begin. A fun, easy read, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue has a humorous voice that translates perfectly from the page to audiobook format. Christian Coulson (of young Voldemort a la Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets fame) is a wonderful narrator, bringing out Monty’s wit and sarcasm to fullest effect. Both reading and listening to this book, there were numerous times I caught myself giggling, squealing, and so on. Author Mackenzie Lee is also adept at switching gears from humor to romance to angst and back, which makes for a grand emotional rollercoaster.
The main characters are all endlessly lovable. Monty, a witty flirt, starts out as a bit of a tramp who uses humor to deflect from his deeper issues. His best friend and love interest, Percy, is the more level-headed of the two, though he struggles with his own secrets. And finally, there is Felicity, whose waspish, take-no-shit attitude is a perfect balm for Monty’s antics and Percy’s indulgence of them. The only character I felt was lacking was the Duke of Bourbon, who came off as one-dimensional in his villainy. To be honest, I enjoyed the rest of the story enough not to care.
Set in the backdrop of “1700-something,” Europe, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is very fun to read if you have either a) been to Europe or b) want to go one day. The story starts in England before traipsing through France, Spain, Italy, and Greece. Lee paints each setting with vivid clarity, making you feel like you’re there with Monty and company.
Lastly, there is the relationship between Monty and Percy. I consider myself a somewhat jaded reader when it comes to romance, finding most pairings lacking in build-up, chemistry, or emotional payoff. Monty and Percy have all of this and more. Their constant toeing around each other is great fun to read, and Monty’s first-person perspective gives you a front-row seat to his pining. The romance borders on gooey, but Monty and Percy are adorable from the get-go, so it’s difficult to find fault in that.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is perfect if you’re looking for a fun, easy read with tons of humor and a queer romance. You won’t be able to stop grinning.
In closing, I offer the phrase from the book (which, by the way, should make its way back into mainstream lingo): ZOUNDS.