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A Rake’s Progress

Join the heir to the Earldom of Montague on a road trip, 1700s style, in The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue.

A Rake’s Progress

BOOK REPORT for The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Cover Story: Jim Dandy
Drinking Buddy: All Things in Moderation
Testosterone Level: Epic
Talky Talk: Adventure Time!
Bonus Factors: The Grand Tour, Epilepsy, LGBTQ 18th Century Style
Bromance Status: You Grew on Me

Cover Story: Jim Dandy

Ah, the giant teen again. Of course this one is all foppish and dandified, a real 18th century macaroni. Just what the author intended.

The Deal:

Eighteen-year-old Henry "Monty" Montague was born into the upper crust of 18th century British society. He wants nothing more than to drink and carouse with his best buddy Percy. His father is desperately disappointed in his son, but has to put up with him, as he's the only one who can inherit the family's vast estate someday (not his younger sister Felicity. Who ever heard of putting a girl in charge of something like that?). Except the Montagues were just blessed with an unexpected new son. Suddenly, there's a potential other heir. Monty better get his act in order if he doesn't want to be disinherited.

Monty is about to embark on The Grand Tour, and looks forward to a year of partying in all the European capitals with Percy before returning back home to business. Unfortunately, his father lays down the law. They're going to be accompanied by a chaperone who intends to ensure that there is no drinking, gambling, loose women, smoking, or any of Monty's other many vices. No, they'll be visiting concerts, lectures, museums, and fancy balls. To make matters worse, Felicity, his snotty, uptight sister, will be accompanying them on her way to finishing school in Marseilles. Great. Just great.

Of course, Monty immediately gets off on the wrong foot. At a reception in Paris, he not only manages to appear at the Palace of Versailles buck naked, but causes an international incident that forces him to flee the city with a lot of angry people on his heels. Soon he, Percy, and Felicity are so embroiled in international political scandal that they may not be able to return home, if they even make it out alive.

Eh, beats another night at the opera.

Drinking Buddy: All Things in Moderation

Monty is the first to admit that he really only cares about himself, and maybe Percy. He's disinterested in his family, eschews his responsibility, and wants nothing more than to get drunk and hop into bed with the next cute girl--or guy--he sees. He's rich and good looking, and nothing else really matters.

But this onion has layers. Monty's father is pretty much holds him in contempt. But Daddy punctuates his displeasure with blows from the fists, especially when it comes to his son's bisexuality. He's going to knock some sense into that little shit or kick him out of the manor entirely.

As things go from bad to worse on the tour, Monty, alone and without resources for the first time in his life, has to make do on his own. Is there a likeable, responsible guy in there somewhere? Someone worth liking? Someone worth loving? Or is he just the gin soaked idiot everyone thinks he is?

Either way, Monty would know the good party spots.

Testosterone Level: Epic

Once the trio is on their own, the excitement level really kicks up. There's French soldiers, disguised highwaymen, Spanish alchemists, African pirates, and Italian grave robbers. Not a lot of down time on this vacation.

And then there's this: Monty is desperately in love with Percy, his best friend since childhood. He's never said anything of course, but Monty has a feeling...just kind of a gut reaction...that maybe his love isn't one-sided. But how do you bring something like that up to another lad? Sure, they've done more than a little joking about their bromance, maybe a bit more touching than was strictly necessary, but can Monty really flop everything out on the table like that? Especially in the 1700s? How many nights sharing a bed at an inn or snuggled together in a ship's hold can Monty keep this to himself?

To make things more difficult, Percy is half-Negro, the ward of a wealthy family. He's not always accepted in 'polite' society. He'll soon be shipped off to school in Holland and will likely never return to England. Should Monty declare his love now, or keep it hidden forever?

Talky Talk: Adventure Time!

I was certainly unenthused about this Owl Crate book about a boy who wears lacy cuffs. That is, until I started reading. This book doesn't let up, both in the adventure and the romance departments. Flawed protagonist, depictions of 18th century views on race, sex, the other kind of sex, health, and class are all covered. And there's pirates. Things are always better with pirates.

My one big problem is this book took a bit of a supernatural turn at the end, which make a simple historical romance into kind of a fantasy. But hey, all literature is fantasy in its own way.

Bonus Factor: The Grand Tour

In centuries past, young European men would celebrate their manhood by embarking on a tour of the continent. Accompanied by a tutor/chaperone, cooks, valets, coachmen, and other servants, they would explore the European capitals, mostly in France, northern Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and Holland. And none of them ever used this as an excuse to get drunk mess around with the local girls.

Bonus Factor (and spoiler alert): Epilepsy

At about page 100, Percy has an unexpected siezure. Afterwards, he tells Monty and Felicity that he is an epileptic. Bummer, eh? I guess next time he looks like he's not feeling well, they'll bring him a chair and watch out for him until it passes, right?

Nope, this is the 18th century and epilepsy was as misunderstood as AIDS was in the 1980s. No one knew what caused it and most viewed it as a form of madness or demon possession. Some believed it to be contagious. And Percy's wealthy benefactors are not thrilled with this fairly recent development. They're at the point of casting him out on the streets. But his buddy Monty will always have his back, right? I mean, this changes nothing, right? Right?

Bonus Factor: LGTBQ 18th century style

In Monty's time, his sexual preference wasn't called bisexuality or gay or LGBTQ. It was called sodomy and you could hang for it. While it's hard enough to figure out if Percy feels the same way, it's even harder when he realizes that they will never ever walk down any street anywhere, holding hands. Even Felicity, his intelligent, forward-thinking, free-spirited sister, still chastises him for his 'sin.'

It ain't easy being a rainbow now. It could cost you your life back then (and a lot more recently than the 1700s).

Bromance Status: You Grew on Me

Just as Felicity and Monty began to appreciate each other and Monty began to appreciate himself, this book rapidly grabbed my interest and won my heart. (Bows all courtly like).

FTC full disclosure: I got a free copy of this book from Owl Crate, but no pounds, lira, francs, drachma, or guilders.

 

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.