This is destined to be a year of reading disappointments.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee is a book I sooo wanted to give 5 stars to and that I have been very eager to read for months. I actually went to Chapters and picked it up a few weeks ago because I had read so many glowing and sparkling reviews of it and simply had to get my hands on the novel. I put it on the top of my End of 2017 To-Read List, and when I finally started it last Saturday, I had in my mind that it was going to become a new favourite.
It did not, however…far from it, actually. I should clarify that I did NOT hate this novel by any standards and it absolutely wasn’t the worst book I read this year. It did some things remarkably well (I’ll get to this in a moment), and aspects of it genuinely made me laugh and smile. That being said, it was not at all as special as I was expecting it to be, particularly because of all the radiant things my fellow readers have said about it on Goodreads. I was expecting to fall passionately in love with the characters… I did not. I was expecting to be on the edge of my seat as I went on this breathtaking adventure… I was not. I was expecting to have my beliefs and morals shaken to the core… They were not. While Lee writes a book that is clearly very groundbreaking and unique in some ways, it is also utterly stereotypical and common in others. For these reasons, I never found myself fully getting into the story, and I almost dreaded reading it at times because I couldn’t get excited about any aspect of the tale. This was sincerely disappointing to me.
I think where The Gentleman’s Guide failed for me was in terms of the plot. If the characters were not so different and incredible (again, I’ll get to this in a moment), I would’ve rated the book 2 stars for the weak and overdone plot alone. I understand that the main character, Monty, and his friend Percy and sister Felicity are meant to be going on this Grand Tour of Europe, but I felt that the plot was made overly complicated for no apparent reason, and too many archetypes and stereotypes were thrown in to make the story feel like a standard adventure novel. Nothing about the overall adventure plot surprised me whatsoever because everything that occurred was something that I had already seen in this sort of novel before. I feel like, if you’ve ever read Gulliver’s Travels or Robinson Crusoe, you’ve sort of got this idea of what an adventure narrative looks like, and when subtle twists on the same narrative structure are executed, they fail to amuse or engage. For example, was I surprised when Monty, Percy and Felicity ended up being separated from their chaperone and had to live a vagabond life for some time? Nope, because almost every rich character who goes on an adventure is forced to beg and live in impoverished conditions for a time. Was I surprised when it turns out that the only supposed friends Monty, Percy and Felicity find are somewhat villainous? Nope, because every adventure novel will do that sort of 180 on a reader and try to take them by surprise when revealing the true villain of the story. Was I at all intrigued when Monty, Percy and Felicity were attacked and kidnapped by pirates? Definitely not, because I literally read almost the exact same thing a few months ago in Leigh Bardugo’s Siege and Storm. The pirate, turned privateer, turned friend and ally is NOT a new concept. I guess that’s my whole point: nothing about Lee’s story seemed new or fresh, and I have read adventure novels that were executed far better, even just recently. The Shadow and Bone trilogy is a good example, because I feel like Alina and Mal went on almost exactly the same adventure, only in a much more intriguing and exciting manner!
I feel that The Gentleman’s Guide tried too hard to be the quintessential adventure, and so it failed miserably, because it was overladen with tropes and never fully became a unique story in its own right. That is, of course, just my opinion though.
What The Gentleman’s Guide does remarkably well, however, is create realistic and groundbreaking characters. I have to admit right away that I really did NOT like Monty whatsoever. I thought he was an annoying narrator, a frustrating character in general, and that he was too focused on whining and being helpless to actually accomplish anything. Honestly, if it weren’t for Percy and Felicity, I probably would’ve thrown this book at the wall for all Monty’s immature and idiotic behaviour. Having said that, Percy and Felicity more than made up for how much I disliked Monty. Percy is everything Monty is not: mature, poised, resilient and strong. He was the sort of role model that I believe all boys need when growing up, and Lee’s decision to make her characters extremely diverse, in terms of race and sexual orientation, was a very wise one because it made me so eager to root for Percy and so interested in learning more about his character. Percy, in my opinion, is the beacon of The Gentleman’s Guide; his relationship with Monty made me actually soften towards Monty a little (even though I thought the entire time that Percy could do waaay better, and still do think that!). Felicity is another character that truly blew me away. She is this fiercely intelligent young woman of 15 years old, and she is totally unstoppable! She is desperate to have an education, she is constantly reading, but she is also cunning and brave and she saves Monty more times than he would probably care to admit. I believe that Felicity is a fabulous figure for young girls to look up to because she proves that women have just as much power and strength as men. I wish that more of The Gentleman’s Guide focused on Felicity and her growth and development as a character, because it grated on my nerves to read Monty criticizing her when it was so clear that she was much more adept and skilled than him in almost every manner. If it weren’t for Percy and Felicity, honestly, and for the skillful portrayal of diverse characters, it would’ve been a lot harder for me to get through this novel.
For me, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue deserves an average rating. If I were basing my rating just on the stereotypical plot and the frustrating narrator, it would get 2 stars (if that) from me…but for Percy and Felicity, who I truly enjoyed reading about, I’ll award 1 extra star.
As I mentioned previously, though, this novel has very radiant reviews from almost everyone else who has read it…so I am most definitely in the minority here. And, I do encourage readers to pick up this book, if only to get to know Percy and Felicity. So, a bit of a mixed review from me, but overall, I would recommend it as a character study, if not as a daring and exciting adventure tale!
❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart