Top positive review
Purple Pride for the Win!
Reviewed in Australia on 18 September 2018
No Major Plot Spoilers But I Do Discuss So Character Traits That Are Not Included In The Blurb. Read On At Own Peril.
"What do you want me to say? Yes, I'm ill. I'm an epileptic—that's my lot.
It isn't easy and it isn't very enjoyable but this is what I've got to live with This is who I am, and I don't think I'm insane. I don't think I should be locked up and I don't think I need to be cured of it for my life to be good." - Percy Newton
First off I need to say I am epileptic and what convinced me to add this to my theoretical I-must-read-this-asap-like-yesterday list was one of the characters epileptic status. I have never read a book with epilepsy featuring as anything other than a throwaway thing, or a strict hurdle to be overcome, never read it as a key plot point. This is an accurate representation of life with epilepsy, the feelings, the emotions, the hiding in my reading (because lord knows not much has changed since the 1700s, no cure and we can still be social pariahs). It is so important for all people to have some sort of mirror a way to see themselves in fiction when needed. While The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue isn't perfect, as a representation of how an epileptic feels even now it is a masterclass. For that alone, it deserves and gets 5 stars.
Moving on to more brilliance I'm all for bisexuality in fiction and the problematic protagonist and narrator is bisexual, with his main interest being male. The whole story is his redemptive arc. But his starting point the insulting sexist rake is a bit much. Though very much of the time I guess. His shining lights are his devotion to his loved ones, his humour (the goblin...) and honestly his abused past. His past is a huge part of who he is, why he is the way he is, and sadly something that people might relate to and see another way. Percy is also relatable a half-caste (what is the correct term for that?) epileptic orphan, though to an entirely different set of people and he serves as a reminder to be yourself more than be better. Monty and Percy are two sides of the same coin or tarot card as is the case. During the course of the book, there is a tarot reading in which Monty gets the King of Cups reversed. The reader gives both the straight interpretation and the reversed interpretation the former describes Percy the later Monty. The primary female character is the intelligent, independent, feminist Felicity. The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy the next book in the series is hers and looks just as intriguing. Together the three characters work spectacularly well they are diverse and will all appeal to different people.
As for the story well the idea of a grand tour appeals to me. I'm going, to be honest, I didn't see the ending coming, I guess the signs were there but they aren't screaming at you. It is a tremendous amount of fun conveying all the enjoyment that could be had by a young adult on their grand tour. The writing is witty and paced well never falling into a rut. It is also quotable because t is so funny and relatable. Monty and Percy have a conversation fairly early on that deals with Monty's abuse, his father and the impact it is having on him, that 3-page conversation is possibly one of my favourite passages in the book. It is honest and brutal and the core of their whole deal. It is fantastic writing. The sectioning by location was a very clever way to break the book up, at over 500 pages it isn't small but the sections make targeted reading easy. The inclusion of brief notes on the grand tour, politics, epilepsy, race relations in eighteenth-century Europe and queer culture was intelligent helpful.
I'm going to refer to this in public as my purple pride or team purple book from now on. Purple is the colour of epilepsy awareness and has extremely strong meaning in the bisexual community. Gentleman's Guide flies the flag for both camps without fear and tells a young audience it is okay you aren't broken, there are others.
It is so easy to see why The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue has had so much praise, it is well written historical fiction for young adults dealing with a medical condition and diverse sexuality. This is one for the epileptics to read and enjoy (you will see something of yourself) and for anyone who wants to try to understand. There is definitely something here for historical fiction fans too, Ms Lee has done a wonderful job with her research while making it so readable.