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Her Fine Eyes

Caustic reviews of YA books I adore. 

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David Elliott
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Julia Serano

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue - Mackenzi Lee, Christian Coulson

This book surprised me in the best way. I thought it would be another fluffy young-adult historical fiction novel that veers off into a jolly romp at the expense of getting the time period and the history right. But Ms. Lee takes her research seriously all while providing colorful, rich characters and slamming her readers with adventure.


There is anachronism, yes. There is the spunky sister who secretly wants to be a physician but is being sent to finishing school. There are occasional slips into modern slang (I can't find the first recorded date of "absobloodylutely" but it does seem to be Australian, not English). 


Perhaps the novel doesn't commit to its genre early enough. The fact that alchemy is a real kind of magic in this world, not a fruitless scientific pursuit, makes it a touch fantastical, although nothing else in the plot suggests that (and the alchemy turns out to be more of a MacGuffin than something the characters use). And the author herself seems to realize that she sat down to write about a young man who is in love with his best friend and going on his Grand Tour, yet it somehow became an amusement ride instead. Monty nearly breaks the fourth wall with his meta comment, "We've had an adventure novel instead of a Tour." 


But I enjoyed the action, and maybe even the surprise of it. I learned to accept that the privateers are unusually sensitive because of their pasts, not cutthroat--when in reality maybe they'd be more violent because of the wrongs committed against them. I only rolled my eyes a little when Felicity stitches a large gash on her own arm without even wincing, because she's that tough and clinical. I decided not to be disappointed that the Duke of Bourbon is a one-dimensional villain. I closed my eyes to the fact that this incredibly important box that drove the action of the book was just sitting on a desk where anyone could take it. I forced myself not to investigate whether Venetian islands can actually sink while you're standing on them. I just went along on the romp.


I loved that Ms. Lee had a goal of telling a story about queer, disabled, bi-racial, feminist characters in a historical setting. I thought it was a nice realistic touch that Felicity never quite accepts Monty's attraction to Percy, though she doesn't get in the way of their relationship. 


One tiny plot question: the deal with the privateers was that Percy would go back and get a letter from his uncle allowing them to legally patrol the seas. And yet at the end of the novel our protagonists haven't stopped back "home." Did I miss something? I don't think a long-distance message from Percy to his uncle would suffice in getting that letter--he'd have to show up personally to secure it. Perhaps the sequel will start with their return to England, though my impression is that the second book is about Felicity on the high seas.


(Not: I listened to this in audio, and Christian Coulson's narration is excellent.)