It’s been about ten months since I left off with the Montague siblings in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzie Lee’s novel featuring Henry “Monty” Montague and Percy Newton, with Felicity along as well. While Monty was fine and I liked Percy immensely, I was curious to hear more about Felicity. I had questions and she intrigued me. Now, in The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, there’s far more perspective given not only to her, but to two new female companions as well.
Published: 2 October 2018
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Category: Historical Fiction/Young Adult/LGBT+
In this highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Felicity Montague must use all her womanly wits and wiles to achieve her dreams of becoming a doctor—even if she has to scheme her way across Europe to do it. A must-have for fans of Mackenzi Lee’s extraordinary and Stonewall Honor-winning novel.
A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.
But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.
In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.
Rating: 4 Stars
CW: (highlight to reveal content warnings) derogatory slur against African people/directed at an African woman, homophobia, potentially aro/acephobic comments
The adventure that Felicity, Sim, and Johanna engage upon across Europe and Africa was intense. It was thrilling and felt like it could have bordered on madcap, but there was usually a reason to their journey, even if it was sometimes a somewhat reaching one. Whenever an obstacle appeared in their path, whether it be a poisoned injury or a dastardly man that wanted to ship them back to England, they fought with what abilities and tools were available to them to fight their way forward.
It was frustrating to read at times because there was, of course, the historical sentiment that women couldn’t do things that men could and the sexism that was dripping from many encounters was, frankly, uncomfortable at times. The frustration that Felicity felt, Johanna’s upset, and Sim’s discomfort, all of these feelings were realistic to the time, but worse still is that they’re relatable to current times because similar attitudes remain in various arenas to this day.
An angle that I thought interesting was when Johanna, at the beginning an estranged friend of Felicity’s, confronted her about why it was they’d become uncommunicative. As children they’d enjoyed similar pursuits, ones deemed unsuitable for their sex, but as they got older Johanna came to like more “traditional” things: dresses, cosmetics, ribbons. Felicity, on the other hand…
You refused to let me—or anyone!—like books and silks. Outdoors and cosmetics. You stopped taking me seriously when I stopped being the kind of woman you thought I had to be to be considered intelligent and strong.
Felicity really needed a strong talking to because she had this pigheadedness about what she thought was right and wrong, about how to be taken seriously and how to present herself. She thought that in order to get what she wanted, she had to be one way and that was the only way for anyone to be and that Johanna had betrayed her by enjoying feminine pursuits. Johanna disproves this several times and really lays into her in a scene that I cheered for:
You’re not better than any other woman because you like philosophy better than parties and don’t give a fig about the company of gentlemen, or because you wear boots instead of heels and don’t set your hair in curls.
The same or similar could be said about people in literary circles who have notions of superiority because they read only non-fiction and look down on people who read young adult fiction or romance novels. That’s ridiculous and I’d like to see Johanna have at them.
Johanna was so much fun to have around. She loved her dog, Max, quite a lot and at one point, when trying to run away, would’ve taken him with her if she could’ve managed it (he’s quite large so it didn’t, sadly, but he’s okay!). She’s a multilayered young person, as she proves to Felicity and while she shouldn’t have had to prove a damn thing, I think knowing her will be a good thing because she’s living proof that you can have multiple and varied interests, even if your friends don’t quite understand them. That’s fine! You don’t have to! So long as you’re not a serial killer or anything, right?
Sim, an African Muslim young woman that Felicity makes the acquaintance of over the course of the story, was an admirable person. She was dealing with some of the same problems that Felicity and Johanna were (because they were women) and she wanted to inherit her father’s holdings, but in the time they spent in Europe, she was also dealing with the prejudices and racist confrontations that came of being African.
Felicity acknowledged this in a very surface level way, so ick in that respect, but in regards to Sim: she was strong and despite the times, knew what she was about. She knew what she had to do, knew what she was against, and what she might have to give up in the end. When she had choices to make regarding personal satisfaction or familial duty, Sim was someone to admire because her convictions were her own, despite the difficulty she might have had in solidifying them.
It was fun to see Monty and Percy again. I liked Monty much more this time around, partly I think because he was a side character and thus I got him in much smaller doses. The scenes that he and Percy shared were lovely and it enabled the reader to get a good sense of the sweet relationship they shared. It felt like it had been going well. They might not be rich or anything, but even so, they were happy. One point of evidence was Monty constantly wearing a hat that Percy knit for him.
“That hat is idiotic.” “I know,” he says. “Percy made it for me.” “I didn’t know Percy knew how to knit.” “He doesn’t,” Monty replies, and the brim of the hat falls into his eyes as though in emphasis.
The slight counterpoint to the sweetness of Monty and Percy is Felicity’s continuing homophobic commentary toward them, primarily inward as it is.
Considering the time period and the notions she’ll have had drilled into her head all her life, coming around to the idea of her brother being gay may have taken time. She admits herself that it did and yet it feels like, taking into account the time that has passed since the last book, that more growth would have taken place on Felicity’s part. Calling relationships such as Monty’s & Percy’s perverse more than once was upsetting and I just couldn’t understand her, after all things.
There was a moment in the book as well that while I might get in the historical sense didn’t settle well with me and it’s the one I labeled potentially ace/aro-phobic. Sim, an African Muslim woman that Felicity meets in the beginning of the book and travels with, talks with her about relationships and whether Felicity might settle one day, particularly comment along the line of: how do you know? You just haven’t found the right one yet. Have you at least kissed someone? Those are lines that ace/aro people might find familiar and uncomfortable.
On the bright side, there were DRAGONS in the book. Far too few for my taste, but they were there. It was not something I expected to see and it was interesting to see the different ways they were viewed between Felicity/Johanna and Sim/her people. There were differing points of view regarding this discovery (new/not new, share/not share) and from a hindsight perspective, there was a sense of dread, knowing how those sorts of “discussions” would play out. Nobility of intentions, hypocrisy, there were so many angles to bring up that that portion of the book along would take up an hour long book club discussion and still not be finished.
The Montague siblings are, I think, not finished in their adventures, not by half. I wonder where their next voyage will take them.
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