“We are not broken things, neither of us. We are cracked pottery mended with laquer and flakes of gold, whole as we are, complete unto each other. Complete and worthy and so very loved.”
What I knew before reading this book: 1) it was hist-fic, and 2) it was cute as hell.
What I knew after reading this book: it is nonstop shenanigans and I adored every single damn page.
This is my first time reading Mackenzi Lee’s writing, and I really enjoyed it. With Monty as the narrator, it felt every bit the part of being stuck inside the head of a wild, reckless teen boy in the 18th century. When he ached, I ached for him; when he laughed, I smiled.
Henry “Monty” Montague is expected to be refined, intelligent, brave, and “manly” – not this gambling, alcoholic, wild playboy whose days are filled less with helping run his father’s estates and more with chasing skirts (and trousers). In a last-ditch effort to reform him, Lord Montague sends Monty on a Tour: a year-long trip to see the world, take in a bit of culture, and curb his wicked ways. Unfortunately for Lord Montague, he’s allowed the inclusion of Percy – Monty’s very best friend, whom he is helplessly in love with.
Speaking of characters, Gentleman’s Guide is full to the brim with lovable folks:
• There’s Monty, our narrator. He’s arrogant, self-centered, and rude, which feels like the bulk of his personality traits in the beginning of the story; however, it’s soon shown that he has been through tremendous hardships that have formed the behaviors he displays. There’s such character growth and development present in his story, and by the end, I was amazed at how far he had come.
• Percy, Monty’s best friend and our resident love interest. He’s so precious, kindhearted, and loving, and my heart broke for him every time anyone had a cruel word to say about his dark skin and biracial blood.
• Felicity Montague: Monty’s little sister, who joins them on their Tour. She begins the story as a bit of a brat, but we quickly learn that it’s her defense against being expected to perform as a “lady” when all she really wants to do is practice medicine. She is full of clever quips and remarks – see for yourself:
“Just thinking about all that blood.” I nearly shudder. “Doesn’t it make you a bit squeamish?”
“Ladies haven’t the luxury of being squeamish about blood,” she replies, and Percy and I go fantastically red in unison.
• There’s also a motley crew of side characters in varying degrees of wonderfulness (and awfulness), but I’ll just take a moment to mention my favorite: Scipio, the pirate captain. Scipio is such a sweet character, and I wish we could have had even more time to spend with him throughout the story, because I feel like he had so much more to teach Monty.
✘ WHAT I LIKED
This story is just fun. It has its heartbreaking moments – quite a few of them, in fact – but at its core, it’s an adventure story, a love story, a story of growth and self-acceptance, and so much more.
Mackenzi has a way of making social remarks in such a down-to-earth, understandable way. There are a handful of discussions on homosexuality/bisexuality, as well as gender roles – such as Felicity’s desire to practice medicine, meanwhile Monty has no desires to be lord of his father’s estates. Monty also describes himself as being small in stature more than once, pointing out how much the insults to his height and form have damaged his self-view.
More than anything, I loved the discussions regarding racism in the 18th century – especially because the discussions usually felt so relevant to modern times, too. We see Percy treated poorly time and time again for his dark skin, and it’s always addressed, but my favorite exchange was actually during a scene in which Monty uses his white, English appearance to get Scipio and the rest of the crew out of trouble. I won’t spoil anything, but at the end of the exchange, Monty essentially asks for an apology/thank-you, and Scipio wrecks the White Savior Complex before it can even begin:
“There is nothing good about watching another man claim your ship because your skin is too dark to do it yourself,” he says, each word a glancing wound. “So in future, you needn’t demand apologies on my behalf.”
I had been increasingly worried that Monty’s status as the only white guy around was going to become problematic, but nope – more than once, he was humbled and brought to the realization that his efforts didn’t always come from as healthy of a place as he thought they did.
The final thing I want to bring attention to is Percy’s epilepsy, and how Mackenzi Lee handled it; she showed how backwards the general views on misunderstood ailments were at the time (such as people believing epilepsy was caused by demonic possession or mental illness), but there are also some really great tidbits here and there about living with a lifelong illness. I won’t spoil anything for you, but Percy’s stance on his condition towards the end of the book was so authentic and heartwarming.
✘ WHAT I DISLIKED
I literally only had one complaint about the entire book, and it’s not really a complaint as much as it is a note to the editor: in several instances, pieces of dialogue are placed in closed quotations, with no indication to who is speaking. Maybe part of it is due to the fact that I read a lot of this book late at night while being very tired, but I kept having to go back and reread paragraphs to try and make sense of who said what.
✘ FINAL VERDICT
This book is beyond wonderful, and I think that everyone needs to read it. It’s a delightful adventure story written around an adorable romance and it’s just fun. If you pick this one up, you’re in for a hell of a good ride.
✘ CONTENT WARNINGS
Homophobia, ableism, racism, alcoholism, PTSD, severe parental abuse. If any of these are triggers for you, please proceed with caution. ♡