Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is the book that made me believe that historical fiction can be fun too while being diverse and giving us the perspective of those whose stories we don’t hear often enough. I have been waiting to read more of Felicity’s adventures and I’m so glad that this one didn’t disappoint.
Felicity Montague is a sassy badass woman who wants to become a doctor in a world that will never let her but that doesn’t stop her from pursuing all possible avenues, however far fetching they may seem. Despite seeming very ambitious and going off on her usual rants about equality for women and the unfairness of the society, she still feels insecure sometimes about the societal expectations placed on her, how life would be simpler if she could be satisfied being someone’s wife. But she never lets these insecurities unsettle her and gives herself constant pep talks to believe in her choices. As the story progresses, she realises her own flaws and prejudices and works to better herself while also gaining an understanding that her path to knowledge might be slightly different than the one she originally planned.
Johanna is the epitome of femininity and compassion and smashes the stereotype of the “strong female character” that we so often see in YA. She loves her dresses and parties, always has a smile on her face and is very charming in social situations, and she also wants to do everything she can to follow in her mother’s footsteps and restore her scientific legacy. I love how she stands up for her principles but is also ready to own up to her biases when challenged. But the best part – she is a devoted animal lover and her dog Max is the most adorable one ever. And the scene with the baby sea dragon… I almost cried 😢😢😢
Sim is the swashbuckling African Muslim hijabi pirate we never knew we needed. She is cunning and sassy and brave and just wants to fight for her birthright to inherit her father’s pirate fleet. She is very strong in her convictions and never backs down from an argument and the frenemy-ish dynamic she develops with Felicity is my favorite part of the book.
And coming to my adorable babies… Monty and Percy. They just light up the page with all their love whenever they show up and I was waiting for all the little moments. I almost teared up reading about their dire living situation but Monty is still his old flirty delightful self, and nothing can get him down while Percy is his side. It’s also very endearing to see how much closer Monty and Felicity have grown and the ends to which Monty and Percy go to protect her is just awesome. She is definitely lucky to be part of that Monty-Percy sandwich 😍😍😍
I just love how easy it is to read and get lost in Mackenzi’s writing. Her charming demeanor definitely reflects in her words and that’s why this series is so much fun. I especially love that this book while being an adventure tale, gives us a portrait of the misogyny and the discrimination against women at the time and the lives of those ladies who relentlessly fought for their rights when everything was stacked against them. The other most important thread I enjoyed in this book is the importance of friendship and female solidarity. The bond that Felicity, Johanna and Sim form during the course of their journey is very admirable to read about and something we all can learn from.
The author follows the same tone of writing as in Gentleman’s Guide – using the quirky humor to give subtle commentary on various social issues. Misogyny is the main theme here because each of these amazing women are fighting for their rightful place in the world. Despite wanting to be a doctor and live an independent life, Felicity is still a victim of internalized misogyny, and it takes an intense conversation with Johanna for her to realize how quickly she used to judge other women for making choices different than hers, and that strong women come in all forms. The extremely problematic views that we hear from men along the way made me very angry and frustrated because unfortunately, people who think like this still exist in our world.
The other theme that is very subtle and might not feel very impactful but I felt very differently about was colonization. As the daughter of an African pirate commodore, Sim has a very opposing perspective to the narrow minded European view that Johanna and Felicity share. The conflict between Johanna’s insistence on opening up the resources of the islands for the sake of science and research, and Sim’s protectiveness for her people and natural resources is depicted with a lot of care; and it’s clearly pointed out that the European justification for colonization for the good of the people is a boatload of crap.
We also get some awesome aroace rep in the form of Felicity and it’s done wonderfully, especially in a time period when it was a woman’s duty to marry and procreate. She has many internal monologues questioning her feelings and not being able to explain to others about the same, but I love that she finds peace within herself towards the end. Sim flirts with her in such adorable ways, sometimes even through arguments… it was very cute to read. Despite the possibility for a beautiful sapphic romance, I’m glad that the author portrays their sexualities independent of each other. And it’s great that none of their orientations are depicted as wrong. My only gripe is that while she is understanding of the love that Monty and Percy share, and even calls Percy her brother, Felicity still thinks of their relationship as sinful in her head and I wish she had evolved beyond that.
If you loved Gentleman’s Guide, you might find this book slightly less adventurous and more forceful in it’s message – but in this age of persistent women trying to fight for better gender equality, I feel this is a great book with an empowering story featuring badass women taking down the patriarchy in their own ways.