The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue Book Poster Image
Funny, exciting escapades of bisexual English teen in 1700s.

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Kids say

age 14+
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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Author's note explains changes made to real people and events for the sake of the story, divided into sections including "Politics," "The Grand Tour," and "Queer Culture," and includes some resources for more information. Lots of early-1700s vocabulary without definitions encourage readers to look up things like "banyan" and "justacorps." Rare words or phrases in French and Catalan and a famous Latin phrase are translated.

Positive Messages

Choose what makes you happy, not what others say you should choose; life might be more difficult, but at least you'll be happy. As imperfect as you may be, your imperfections are part of who you are; you're not broken, and you are worthy of being loved. People can't help whom they're attracted to or fall in love with; trying to change them, especially by violence, doesn't change anything and causes more harm.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator Monty, 18, is spoiled, privileged, and unaware of his privilege, and tends to run away from rather than face problems. All he's looking forward to on his tour of Europe is drinking, smoking, having dalliances, and being away from family. Best friend (and love interest) Percy and Monty's sister, Felicity, are loyal and levelheaded. Felicity especially is unafraid to point out Monty's flaws or call him out when he's acting like a jerk. Good adult role models are found in traditionally shunned or feared groups; others, like Monty's father, the tour chaperone, and the Duke of Bourbon, are violent, inept, or just plain evil.

Violence

Fights and scuffles with punching, guns, knives, and swords. Blood for injuries is mentioned but no gory descriptions. Past memories of young teen or tween being savagely beaten by his father appear fairly regularly, with pain and injuries not described in detail. A man's arms and hair catch fire, screaming is mentioned. An ear has to be removed after a gunshot near the face; no gory descriptions but blood is mentioned. Characters frequently in peril. An important location is a spooky, creepy, underground crypt. During an epileptic seizure, a character has blood-tinged foam at the mouth. Butchered pigs briefly described and blood mentioned on workers' aprons.

Sex

A couple of steamy, same-sex make-out sessions with kissing described in some detail and mention of trying to "stay soft" and feeling him "going stiff." After a strip card game, a man and woman start undressing each other and her breasts pop out. Lots of thoughts and descriptions of physical attraction and flirting, mostly same-sex but some opposite-sex. Some talk about being attracted to both men and women, not understanding why; a central theme is moving past feeling like something's wrong with loving someone of the same sex. Mention that it's OK to "take care of yourself" (masturbation), and that some people thought masturbation was a cause of epilepsy. 

Language

"Damn" and variations, "s--t," "arse," "piss," and the middle-finger gesture. Insults include "s--t," "bastard," "pr--k," "bitch," son of a bitch," "pervert," and "ass." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Monty frequently drinks to excess, thinks about when and how he can have the next drink, and is proud of his high tolerance for alcohol and ability to recover the next day. Lots of different types of alcohol consumed including gin, liqueurs, brandy, beer, and whiskey. A character is forcibly drugged with a paralyzing agent. Monty admits he's been high before. Monty looks forward to smoking lots of cigars on his tour of Europe, smokes tobacco in pipes and once rolls it in paper. Sharing the cigarette is described in some detail.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue is a novel about 18-year-old Monty, who in the early 1700s goes on a Grand Tour of Europe. Same-sex attraction and love, and learning that that's not something you need to change or "fix" about yourself, are central themes. There are a few steamy make-out scenes, with two same-sex couples and one opposite-sex couple. Strong language isn't frequent but includes "d--k," "pr--k," and most often "damn" and variations. Past physical abuse is remembered; injuries and trauma are briefly mentioned. There are fights and scuffles with punching, knives, swords, and guns; blood is mentioned but there's no gore. The characters are frequently in peril, and an important location is a scary underground crypt. Monty drinks to excess a lot, and has alcoholic tendencies. Characters occasionally smoke tobacco, usually in pipes.

User Reviews

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Teen, 17 years old Written bykamiyab May 2, 2018

What's the story?

THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE tells of Henry Montague, a young aristocrat in 1700s England. Kicked out of Eton and a perpetual disappointment to his father for "mucking around with boys," Monty decides to put a little distance, like the continent of Europe, between them for a while and take a Grand Tour. Fortunately, his best friend and secret crush, Percy, gets to come along, too. Unfortunately, Monty will have to put up with his little sister, Felicity, as far as the south of France, where she's to be dropped off at finishing school. Also unfortunate: the time Monty steals an unassuming trinket from the Duke of Bourbon's chamber at Versailles. Because, as it turns out, the trinket is the key to one of alchemy's greatest triumphs, a universal cure-all, and the Duke will stop at nothing to get it back.

Is it any good?

This 1700s road trip story is a fun, funny, and exciting summer read. The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue has lots to sink your teeth into, the story clips along at a good pace, and author Mackenzi Lee strikes a good balance between humor, action, and suspense. Teens will relate to Monty's desire to escape family problems and responsibilities and just have fun on the road for a while.

Monty's inability to see what's really going on gets frustrating sometimes, and most of the surprises or twists are easy to figure out way before he does. But his troubled past and struggle to accept himself, warts and all, inspires empathy. Sexual preference, racism, and gender inequality are all relatable issues the teen characters struggle with. Serious history buffs may balk at some of the updated language, like using "disrespect" as a verb. But teen readers looking for a fun read who can go along for the ride will enjoy Monty, Percy, and Felicity's exploits.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sexy stuff in The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue. Does it seem realistic? 

  • Does Monty drink too much? Is he an alcoholic? Does he make drinking seem fun, and not a big deal? Does it cause problems?

  • Does the portrayal of life in the 1700s seem realistic? What other historical fiction have you read? How does this book compare?

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