“It’s beginning to feel like he’s shuffling his way through the seven deadly sins, in ascending order of my favourites.”
When first hearing about The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue I did the forbidden and judged the book by its cover – assuming it would be the typical drama – until I delved into reviews and found out it was part of the LGBT genre. Pleasantly surprised would be an understatement of how this novel turned out, more so impressed and highly enjoyable.
It takes place in England (and Paris, Barcelona, among several other countries), following Monty, the bisexual lead, Percy, the other lead and gay black man, and Felicity, sister of Monty and follow adventurer to their story. Amidst their tour of Europe and what was supposed to be time for drinking and fun, they become dragged into a whirlwind of danger and risk, romance and conflict, turning their trip into one harrowing and unforgettable quest.
To begin with, there are trigger warnings to be aware of, including racism, sexism, homophobia, slavery, and child abuse, the former specifically shown using slurs. Whilst I sometimes believe these issues can be shown without using that language, in this case, it is in moderation and consideration of the context they’re used in. In terms of approaching sexuality, it is clear that is one of the reasons why this book has been well-received, taking into account the impressions and laws of society during that time and still managing to make the relationship between Monty and Percy (and their sexualities) open without making it so modern that it feels out-of-place for that time.
Aside from Annie on my Mind it is the first (or rather, next) LGBT book I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Though it is the biggest reason for my enjoyment, other factors came into play, such as travelling Europe, the adventure, escaping danger, pirates, and – what came as another surprise – the slight element of fantasy. Each of these things were well-balanced, never overwhelming or overshadowing each other and, as far as I could tell, coming full circle by the end of the book.
“The stars dust gold leafing on his skin. And we are looking at each other, just looking, and I swear there are whole lifetimes lived in those small, shared moments.”
There are few criticisms, but those worth mentioning are the fact Monty could be an absolute dickhead, especially towards the struggles that Percy faced; it started off as something flawed and interesting, and mid-way became unlikeable and made me question why anyone would be interested in him, but when the story eventually came to a close, he does take on a change from before, though whether I would forgive past behaviour is difficult to answer — perhaps that in itself is a good thing, making readers emotional which, indeed, this book succeeded in doing. One other criticism is what one character decides to do come the end of the book, despite being adamant about another decision beforehand, which I found bizarre.
Humour was a welcomed refreshment, as did the romantic scenes between Monty and Percy, offering some light during the darker moments. Felicity also did so by being a strong woman in her pursuit of studying education and medicine, whilst simultaneously sticking by her brother and friend in spite of her feelings towards their sexuality. While it is not something I would agree with, she did not force her opinion on him or do anything to change him or cause him harm because of it. All these things brought together by a coherent and flowing style of writing.
“We’re not courting trouble,” I say. “Flirting with it, at most.”
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue turned out to be a fascinating read, one that I did not put down until finished and one that gave a rounded, closed-off ending, but opening opportunities to read more of Lee’s books.