The follow up to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue—a romp across eighteenth-century Europe as Henry Montague’s Grand Tour goes awry and he finds himself getting into scapes and adventures alongside his sister and the guy he’s secretly in love with—finds Felicity Montague, Monty’s sister, on a quest to get a formal education in medicine. However, chances for women to study medicine in the eighteenth-century aren’t forthcoming, and Felicity ends up on a scheme to meet and work with one of her heroes who is about to marry Felicity’s estranged childhood friend. To pull this off, she must work with a mysterious woman with an agenda of her own who wants to travel to the wedding as Felicity’s maid, but as with the previous book in the series, this is only the start of a journey that crosses countries and the sea.
Again, Mackenzi Lee shows how historical YA fiction should be done. Felicity is a powerful main character, deeply flawed like her brother, desperate to achieve her dreams. She even is forced to confront her own internalised misogyny and to realise that there are things outside her experience that she needs to learn about and consider. Johanna and Sim are both varied and interesting characters who contribute towards Felicity’s personal reflection as well as the exciting narrative, and in general Lee endeavours to show female characters finding different ways to fight back.
The playful approach to history found in Gentleman’s Guide is continued here, with some details changed for plot reasons as highlighted in an author’s note after the text, but this one feels more cuttingly historical in some ways, possibly due to greater reflection on oppression and continuing themes picked up in the earlier book. Have no fear though, there’s plenty of pirates and schemes and sea dragons to keep the adventure going too.
Fans of the first book will probably love this one For anyone else, this is a book for people who love female figures in history and would like a fun, exciting novel about fictional ones, particularly women involved in science, nature, and piracy. Aimed at young adult readers but great for anyone looking for a light, exhilarating read, it is charming but also manages to provide reflection on the situation and treatment of different people, then and now. Felicity will be a hero for many people.