book review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

29283884

THE GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee
★★★☆☆
Katherine Tegen Books, 2017

This was occasionally entertaining but consistently underwhelming. I’m sure it was mostly a fault in my own expectations, but I’d been in the mood for something unapologetically fun and silly, so I was disappointed by how deceptively seriously The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue ended up taking itself. I’m conflicted about this book.

It tells the story of Monty, rich but rebellious heir to his father’s estate. Monty embarks on a Grand Tour of Europe with his best friend Percy (who he happens to be in love with), and his sister Felicity. Again, what I was expecting was an unabashedly ridiculous romp through early-Modern continental Europe, but unfortunately I found the plot anything but thrilling. It bounced from city to city in a rather perfunctory way (I never was able to visualize the atmosphere of the setting in a way I would have liked), and it dealt with an array of rather serious topics: homophobia, racism, abuse. In and of itself this isn’t a bad thing at all, but I thought the execution here was just a bit… basic? The extent of Mackenzi Lee’s exploration of these issues kind of amounted to ‘Percy is not afforded as many opportunities as Monty because of the color of his skin.’ Okay…? Yes? Obviously? That’s all? This ultimately struck me as a book that was on the rather young end of the YA spectrum. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy it if you’re older, of course, but this is the kind of occasionally preachy YA book that I ordinarily like to shy away from.

Though I loved each of these characters individually and was ultimately rooting for their relationship, I also wasn’t a fan of how Mackenzi Lee chose to develop it. Here’s the thing: when your story centers around the possibility of a relationship between two characters, you can’t show your hand too early. You can’t tell us essentially from the very beginning that Monty and Percy are into each other, and then rely on the tired trope of miscommunication to keep them apart for the duration of the story. There’s just… no tension, just a rather prolonged story while you’re awaiting the inevitable conclusion.

But as I said, I did love these characters, Monty in particular. He’s exactly the kind of well-rounded anti-hero I love. Though you see nothing but his flaws at first, his guile and loyalty easily won me over. He’s the sort of character who acts in a loud and brash way to cover up his own fears and insecurities, and I thought Mackenzi Lee did a very good job of developing his character in a believable way throughout the book. He’s occasionally infuriating, but ultimately hard not to love. I was pleasantly surprised by Felicity as well, who for some reason I thought was going to be an awkward accessory to the main narrative – but she ended up having a fantastic role.

I know this review has been mostly negative, but I did really enjoy reading this. It was quick and occasionally fun – the truly lighthearted moments were the ones I thought shone the most – but this basically boils down to the fact that I was not the right reader for this book. And that’s perfectly fine – I’m still glad to have read it.

24 thoughts on “book review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

    • Glad I could be of some help! The tone was absolutely my problem with it, and I feel bad because it isn’t a bad book by any means, just not what I was in the mood for and not what I normally like. There are some YA books I’ve read that are very ‘this is great even if you don’t usually love YA,’ but this was not one of those books.

      Like

    • I think it was a mixed case of inaccurate expectations and it just being the wrong book for me… but despite my criticisms I still quite enjoyed it, and I’m very glad it’s so universally well-loved! (Thank you!)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. I’m actually about to start it, probably today. There’s been a lot of hype about it, but I’ve seen a few 3 star reviews like yours. We’ll see if I like or not! Great review, I don’t like it either when books gloss over important topics like racism.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know we’ve talked a bit about this but “This was occasionally entertaining but consistently underwhelming” really is a succinct way of expressing my feelings towards this book. That said, I’m looking forward to the sequel – Mackenzi Lee is such a fun writer! I want to see what she does without a will-they won’t-they storyline…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our convo definitely gave me clarity on how I felt about certain things (I think I shamelessly stole the way you articulated your problems with how the relationship was written because it had been bugging the hell outta me and I was too annoyed to rly Examine It lmao so THANK YOU). Also, that is actually SUCH a great point about the sequel. I had been on the fence about picking it up, but now that you mention that it will be bereft of a will-they-won’t-they subplot I am at least 50% more interested.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow, what a compliment, thank you so much! It’s not a personal question at all. Unfortunately no, I’m not doing much creative writing at the moment, but it is something that I love and I hope to return to it this year – there are going to be a lot of changes with my job soon and I think I’m going to have more free time as a result.

      (And don’t worry, I’ll definitely check your blog out! I always do when I get follows and comments, it just usually takes me a few days, haha.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Before reading your review I had actually never heard a bad thing about The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, so I was kinda unsure what to expect. But I definitely see your problem (I hate miscommunication as a plot device to keep two people from being together). I definitely still want to read this book, but it’s good to know a bit more about what to expect 😊🌸

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely worth reiterating that I don’t read a lot of YA, so I’m not the usual audience for this book, but I was reading some 1 and 2 star reviews and I think everyone who disliked this book had similar issues with it. And if you hate miscommunication it’s definitely worth knowing about it ahead of time so you’ll at least know what to expect! But I hope you enjoy it when you get around to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. GREAT REVIEW!! I 100% agree with the preachiness and the simplicity of some of the more serious topics. I think specifically I would have liked to have seen Monty’s alcoholic tenancies addressed a bit more deeply, that particular part of him really intrigued me. But I think I just would have liked a lot of the issues dealt with more deeply rather than just “Monty, you are wrong about this because of X,Y, and Z.” And Monty’s like, “Well okay.” And it just took the historical-fiction-ness out of it?? I think there are more subtle ways of applying modern influence and timeless truths to historical fiction.

    BUT I did enjoy the romance a lot more than you did, (Spoilers) I do agree that she revealed their feelings for each other too quickly- when Monty told us in literally the first line of the book that he was in love with Percy I was like UH OH. But then for some reason their kiss established all the tension for me and after that I was really into it despite the miscommunication, though it IS still very frustrating so I totally understand what you’re saying. I think I just liked Monty enough to forgive it?? His entire characters is the most frustrating but I loved him so much, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • THANK YOU especially for letting me borrow it!!!! I had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t going to love it quite enough to buy it for myself BUT I still really enjoyed reading it so it worked out perfectly.

      That is a VERY GOOD POINT about it detracting from the historical fiction-ness of it, it really did feel rather contemporary a lot of the time?? Like on the one hand good for her for wanting to tackle certain prejudices and stigmas, but on the other hand, none of it felt like it organically complemented the narrative…. it felt very ‘here is a fun historical fiction story and by the way RACISM IS BAD, KIDS!’ Some subtlety would have been cool, Mackenzi Lee. And omg YES I thought Monty’s alcoholism was really under-examined, which was a shame?? It was strange, too, since she tackled racism, sexism, ableism, and abuse in such a head-on manner, but then the alcoholism was kind of swept under the rug.

      [spoilers] I think my problem with the kiss scene was how when Percy pulled away it was SO OBVIOUS to the reader that it was because he thought it was just a flippant kiss to Monty, and I think the whole thing would have worked better for me if we genuinely hadn’t been aware of Percy’s feelings from the beginning?? IDK it’s like…. part of me was like THEY ARE IN LOVE I WANT THEM TO BE TOGETHER and the more critical part of me was like ‘I would not have written it this way.’ If there’s romance in the sequel I’ll be curious to see how she approaches it. Anyway yes MONTY WAS THE BEST AND I LOVE HIM, THE TRASHIEST TRASH PRINCE.

      Liked by 1 person

      • EXACTLY. I understand being troubled by the nature of the past, but this book felt like it was seeking to go back and time and give all these issues a slap on the wrist (Monty’s wrist) rather than engaging with it more historically? What got me the most were the pirates and all their moral lessons. When they came into the story I was like YEAH time for some bad guys!! But then they ended up being nice and goofy and I was Not Feeling It, especially when Felicity gave them a talk down. I went into this book to have a fun time and not take it too seriously, and I’m all for Felicity, but my historical accuracy sirens were GOING OFF at that part. I wanted some real pirates to hold them hostage, not tell Monty he’s a good kid, lol.

        This may be kind of knit picky, but one thing that really niggled at me was that none of them had any idea of that Lazarus Bible story, because Christianity was such a much more prevalent thing in society back then and it’s a relatively common story as far as stories go in the Bible go. BUT EVEN SO I wouldn’t have minded if Monty hadn’t made MUCH MORE OBSCURE Bible reference near the beginning of the book. When he’s going to sneak away with that girl at the party at Versailles he says he looks back at Percy “like Lot’s wife looking back at Sodom before was was turned to salt” which is a line about temptation in the old Testament, and I remembered because I was like “wow nice temptation reference Monty” and then when he didn’t know about Lazarus being brought back I was like, HOW do you know about that literal two line reference about Lot’s wife but not Jesus resurrecting someone?? I mean, it’s entirely possible, but when they’re all clueless looking through the Bible I was like MONTY YOU KNOW THINGS!!!!! Okay I just needed to get that one detail out of the way, lol.

        OKAY I REALLY WISH THE ROMANCE HAD BEEN DONE THAT WAY INSTEAD. Because yeah even if Monty was clueless, it was very easy to see what was going through Percy’s mind and it definitely would have added to the tension to be more in the dark about his side of things.

        Liked by 1 person

      • OMG YES up until the pirates I think it was still a 4 star read for me but then I got to that point and I was just like NOPE, I CANNOT. It was so dumb that they basically existed to show Monty the extent of prejudices faced by people of color, which was already such an in-your-face theme in the story, there was just NO subtlety whatsoever?? And the whole teaching Monty to fight back thing UGHHHHhhhhhh that’s when I felt like the book started taking itself WAY too seriously, like it had still been pretty fun up until then but now we’ve got morality 101 lessons with pirates??? Who told Mackenzi Lee this was a good idea.

        OH MY GOD I HAD THE SAME REACTION TO THE LAZARUS THING. I actually read that bit aloud to Ashley and was like ‘what do you think the odds are that these people wouldn’t have heard of Lazarus????’ Like that convo was so clearly manufactured to give non-Christian readers a quick lesson so they’d be able to follow the narrative (which in itself is kind of condescending, like 1. everyone knows the Lazarus story and 2. we live in the age of wikipedia we don’t need every little reference to be self-contained in the narrative??), but the way it was done just made my eyes roll into the back of my head. Like…. I don’t care how much of a heathen Monty is, he still wouldn’t need to look up Lazarus in an encyclopedia. But OMG I hadn’t even thought about how the Lot’s wife reference was so much more obscure!!!! OMG DANG THAT REALLY IRRITATES ME why didn’t an editor catch that???

        YEAH LIKE on the one hand I FULLY bought that Monty would be a clueless idiot about the kiss so that didn’t bother me, it just annoyed me how much more perspective the reader had than Monty especially given that it was in first-person??

        Liked by 1 person

      • I felt a tangible kind of disappointment when I read those pirates, lol. And it also made that middle part of the book a bit boring for me?? Nice pirates are just not exciting. It started feeling like a Disney Channel movie when Monty and Scipio (WHY THAT NAME) started having their little heart-to-heart and I was just not feeling it.

        OKAY GOOD I’M GLAD I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO HAD ISSUES WITH THE LAZARUS THING. I was like NONE of you know who Lazarus is??? Not Percy OR Felicity either??? She could have easily just had one of them explain Lazarus to Monty instead of making them all go research? Like even if they don’t know the details of the story they’d have at least heard of Lazarus AT THE VERY LEAST. If it was contemporary, sure, I’d buy that they don’t know it, but they live in 1700s EUROPE, they would know this stuff. And the whole time I was just like WHY DO YOU KNOW LOT’S WIFE WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW LAZARUS!! I guess it’s a minor detail but that reference could easily been replaced by something in Greek mythology, etc, because Monty has to know SOME things.

        Also this conversation is very satisfying because I’ve felt like the only one with these issues on this book………..Like I really enjoyed it a lot, but lowkey I’ve been ready to RANT!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Like I said to you and Chelsea I’m not a pirate fan in general lolol but I could totally have gotten on board (wow that pun was terrible) with some evil pirates. There was already a lack of tension by that point so I was ready for some ADVENTURE but then instead we got a lecture on white saviorism and I was like wow, ok, not what I signed up for. Like, maybe this stuff is good for younger readers….??? But it was just so BASIC UGH. AND THE NAME SCIPIO WAS SO TERRIBLE. WHY!!!!

        Like??? I am not religious but I still think it is an OBVIOUS THING THAT MOST PEOPLE KNOW, ESPECIALLY IN 1700s EUROPE. That’s definitely another example of it feeling like a contemporary rather than historical fiction. I just felt like the setting was so ARBITRARY sometimes, like why does this story specifically have to be taking place during the Grand Tour era when that clearly is not going to be the narrative focus?? I guess some people really loved the setting but it just never really came together for me… like I have been to Paris and Venice and I really wanted to be transported back to those places but I just couldn’t get a sense of the atmosphere at all??? Sometimes I felt like it was “Now they’re in Venice and there are gondolas. ANYWAY back to the character drama.” Anyway omg yes knowing about Lot’s wife and not knowing about Lazarus is a pretty huge discrepancy!!! Like if Monty is going to know nothing about religion you’ve gotta COMMIT to that characterization. And it would have made so much more sense to have Percy or Felicity be like ‘duh Monty why don’t you know Lazarus, here’s the story.’ I thought it was particularly condescending how Monty had to dumb down the story, like…. teenage readers aren’t stupid!!!

        I TOTALLY GET THAT like having read it I fully understand why it is so well-loved, but I’m also surprised by the lack of criticism I have seen!!! Like yes it is fun and diverse but there are PROBLEMS, WAKE UP AMERICA

        Like

  5. I feel like I really need to read the book now that you’ve read it and gave it a fairly okay review. I was expecting worse, to be honest, hahaha! I guess I’m too used to your rants and now I want to see them everywhere. I don’t like that it sounds very rushed and glossing over important things, but I really liked what you said about Monty – he sounds like a character I would enjoy reading about too! ❤ Lovely review, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahahah to be honest I’m kind of proud that this is my legacy! I was all over the place with this book – at some points I would have given it 2 stars and at some points I would have given it 4. It was an enjoyable read overall, just not quite what I was hoping for. I’ll be curious to hear what you think!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s