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Literature / The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

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The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue is the first book in a series by Mackenzi Lee. It's followed by The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy.
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Henry Montague, called Monty, is a rather rakish, irresponsible young man. His father, the lord of Disley, allows him to go on a grand tour through Europe, a tradition for young, noble men in the 18th century, before he's supposed to become a respectable heir.

Monty, of course, isn't all that interested in becoming respectable. But the idea of a year away from his father, a year of partying and drinking, a year with his best friend Percy, who he's secretly in love with, that sounds exactly like what Monty wants.

And so they set off, Monty, Percy, Mister Lockwood, the man who's supposed to teach them some culture and make sure Monty doesn't embarrass the family too much, and Felicity, Monty's 15-year-old sister, who they're supposed to bring to Marseille so she can attend a proper school for higher born girls there.

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But things already go wrong in Paris: Monty and Percy have a fight, and then Monty does cause a rather big scandal and manages to make an enemy out of the Duke of Bourbon and a fool of himself in the same night. And when they're finally on the way to Marseille, they get robbed, and from there on things just kind of get... complicated.

Tropes present in this work:

  • Abusive Parents: Monty's father beats him black and blue whenever he's angry at him.
  • Adult Fear: The relationship between Monty and Percy addresses several fears:
    • The fear of ostracism from society for their queer and mixed race relationship.
    • The fear of failing to meet high standards set by their families.
    • The fear of seeing a loved one in poor health after Monty learns of Percy's epilepsy.
    • The fear of supporting themselves after Monty's disowns his titles and property.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: How Monty thinks about Felicity and his newborn brother "The Goblin".
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  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Monty has a few moments where he realizes that he does, actually, love his annoying little sister rather a lot, and it's implied that Felicity has similar moments about her feelings towards him.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Monty (and Percy) when they catch Felicity and Dante kissing.
  • But Not Too Black: Percy is mixed race, and the fact that he is noticeably black opens him up to quite a few racist remarks.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Monty and Percy. They're pining for each other rather transparently, but they're both convinced the other doesn't feel the same.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: For Monty. To a lesser degree for Percy and Felicity too, though Felicity gets her own book with The Lady's Guide to Pirates and Petticoats.
  • Dark Secret:
    • Monty hides the fact the bruises he received at Eton came from his father after he was expelled. Felicity grows up believing her brother fighting was the reason for the bruises and expulsion.
    • Percy has epilepsy and is supposed to go into an asylum after the tour.
    • Lord Montague ran away with a French girl when he was young and later abandoned her. The marriage is still valid, though, so technically speaking his marriage to Monty and Felicity's mother is invalid, and all his children are illegitimate.
  • Disappointed in You: Both Percy and Felicity to Monty after the Paris episode. Lockwood too, but Monty doesn't care about him. It's Percy's disapointment that stings hardest.
  • Disappointing Older Sibling: Monty all the way. Felicity, who is not interested in anything a young woman her age is supposed to be interested in and doesn't really put much effort in her appearance and the like, doesn't get that much flack from her parents because Monty always does something worse.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Montagues, oh so much. Mr. Montague is beating up his son and hating the fact that Monty likes boys, too, his wife turns a blind eye to it, Monty is acting out by drinking and partying and sleeping around, and Felicity buries herself in books and a sharp attitude. Only their little baby brother, three months old at the start of the novel, seems good, and that's because he's a baby.
    • On a lesser scale, the Newtons. Percy's father came home from the family plantage years ago with a half black baby son, Percy, and a deadly illness he succumbed to soon after. Percy's uncle and aunt raised him, but it's clear that they are not particularly close, and that Percy has to face racism from their side too. Becomes especially important with the reveal that Percy suffers from epilepsy, and that, since none of the treatments the Newtons subjected him to worked, they decided that he should spend the rest of his days in an asylum, because they don't want to take care of him.
    • Also, the Robles. Father Manteu admits to deliberately turning his daughter Helena against her mother because he thought he'd need an ally. He then does a dangerous experiment on his wife, essentially killing her, and ends up in prison because he refuses to help the Duke of Bourbon. Helena, on the other hand, is willing to do anything to get her father back. And Dante, Manteu's younger son and Helena's little brother, is hiding at his home.
  • Ear Ache: While in the Isle of Martha and Mary, Monty and the Duke of Bourbon have a short fight that ends with Monty's ear getting shot off and his skin scarred by a revolver.
  • A Father to His Men: Scipio, the pirate captain. It's mostly implied, but there's a scene where he teaches Monty to throw a punch, and makes a point of telling him that he is worth of being defended, which is very sweet.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: There's quite a bit of that with Monty and Felicity, with Monty of course being the foolish sibling and Felicity the responsible one.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • The Duke of Bourbon and the king of France were real people.
    • According to the historical notes, Percy's backstory was loosely based on biracial aristocrat Dido Elizabeth Belle.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The Duke of Bourbon ends up drowing in the tomb that he originally wanted to leave Monty, Percy and Felicity in to drown.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Monty notes in the end notes that it feels like they didn't have a tour, they had an adventure novel.
  • MacGuffin: The Baseggio Box that Monty steals at Versailles. Every event in the book hinges on either finding the owner, finding the password, and locating the treasure that the box promises.
  • Road Trip Plot: The whole book, essentially.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Scipio and his crew have a bit of that. Yes, they do kidnap Monty, Percy and Felicity, and yes, they steal all the valuables from the ship they were on, but they don't hurt people if they don't have to, and prove to be the most honorable people that our trio meets on the tour.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Monty is a young man who likes to drink, gamble, party, sleep with attractive people, and sleep until noon. The sight of blood makes him go squeamish. Felicity likes science and books, and medicine, and sows her own wounds.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Percy is black, gay, and has epilepsy. At the end of the book Monty also qualifies, given that he's bisexual and half deaf.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: Monty's parents towards him, and to a lesser degree to his sister Felicity as well.

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