The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Roguish Henry Montague, his younger and more intellectual sister, Felicity, and his biracial, very sensible best friend and secret crush, Percy Newton (who suffers from epilepsy), are off on their European Grand Tour, a common event among the upper classes in 1720s Europe. Monty, an English earl's son, has his mind more on vice than virtue: sex (with both men and women), drinking, smoking and gambling are his proclivities and constant subjects of banter. But his interest in Percy--who Monty is not even sure is attracted to men--is something beyond lust. In the first paragraph of the novel, Monty, thinking of Percy asleep next to him, has a "disorienting moment" in which "it's unclear whether we've slept together or simply slept together."

While at the Palace of Versailles, Monty gets in trouble with the Duke of Bourbon ("advisor" to the young, unhealthy king Louis XV) when he steals a special box--locked with a code--that has a key inside. Soon after, they are beset by highwaymen (including the disguised duke) and forced to continue on without funds. The undaunted teens travel through France to Spain, where they meet the daughter and son of an alchemist who has developed a panacea: the reason for the Duke's single-minded pursuit. The Duke wants the "cure-all" for the king, and Monty wants it for Percy; who will be the first to reach the tomb on the sinking Venetian island where the alchemical miracle can be found?

In The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee (This Monstrous Thing) combines her knowledge of European history with a contemporary, comic sensibility to create an over-the-top romantic adventure complete with cliff-hanging chapter endings and sometimes outrageous narration. Monty is a licentious, flawed and engaging 18th-century hero. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

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