I have seen so many people say that this was one of their favorite YA reads of 2017. I hadn’t really thought of reading it to start with. I mean, it looked pretty good, but it just didn’t jump out at me right away (and there are so many books that do, and my TBR is so ridiculous already, that I usually follow that first lukewarm reaction and move on). Maybe it was the cover that did it – I’m not a huge fan of covers with people on them, and it’s even worse when they are real looking people, as opposed to sketches/animations… That’s not the point though. The point is, it just kept showing up, many times recommended by people who have similar reading tastes as I do. So when it was on the library shelf the day I was there and in the mood for some YA, I decided why not?! And truly, it’s hard to see such an awesome title that many times and not go for it. I mean an author that titles a book something like this, and a book that deserves a title like this, has got to be worth trying.
“Fortune favors the flirtatious.”
The Gentleman in question is Henry Montague, Monty for short. He’s a pretty typical rogue-ish English lord-to-be: good with the ladies (and the men, if we’re honest), perhaps a little too into drinking and gambling, kicked out of school, and ready to set out on his Grand Tour of the Continent before taking on running the estate with his father. Accompanying him on the first leg is his sister, Felicity, who will be dropped off at a finishing school on the way (though she is not excited about this, as she would much rather be at medical school). And more importantly, his best friend Percy will be going as well, before he sets off for law school in the Netherlands the following year. It’s all shaping up to be an amazing last year of freedom for Monty…if he can escape his father’s disappointment, his annoying/know-it-all sister, and figure out how to deal with the fact that his best friend is not only leaving him next year, but might also be the love of his life. Along the way, their Tour is thrown completely off course by highwaymen, pirates, secrets, a scheming French Duke, and the family of a breakthrough Spanish alchemist. Oh, and a spectacular blown opportunity with Percy…
As I started reading, I honestly did not really like Monty. I mean, he is a super bratty, spoiled and selfish English rich kid. And I have to say, that bratty type character is probably my least favorite in all of literature. However, I stuck with it because the voice he tells the story with is superb. Monty is a lighthearted, snarky, sarcastic narrator. I sort of got a My Lady Jane/Gilmore Girls Life and Death Brigade vibe from the very start, a kind of YA version of the voice in The Gentleman, which was a combination/style that I fell in love with. So while I wasn’t a fan of Monty to start, I sure did love his way with words. Honestly, that’s probably still my favorite part of the book. The craftsmanship in the writing is spot on from page one and stays consistent throughout – managing to even stay snarky throughout some of the more serious or dramatic scenes/moments. Incredibly well done.
In the spirit of full disclosure, Monty definitely grew on me as we went. In fact, second to the writing, his development was the next best part. I was so impressed by the pacing and handling of it: he progressed at a reasonable, believable rate and managed to maintain his core characteristics (attributes and drawbacks) even while learning and growing. There was no sudden moment where he was all of a sudden no longer a rake, and even in his best moments, he still retained that part of himself that was a little dissolute. Credit to the author for keeping his voice consistent and not giving in to rushing his “transformation,” making it sooner or greater than it would have been, considering his life/experiences as we go. But he still starts to think of others and accept himself in a way he hadn’t been anywhere near when we first meet him. It’s exactly the right way for his character to be and I have to say, after finishing, I think he’s gotten on my good side. Character wise, I also really enjoyed Percy and Felicity. Though they are much more static as characters, this is really a one person coming of age tale, I loved Felicity’s take charge attitude and Percy’s quieter but supportive presence. And they were both really able to showcase their feelings and talents in their own moments…and through Monty’s eye-opening, we do also get a chance to see them both more fully by the end than we did at the beginning.
The last thing I’d like to mention is the mostly obscure historical details that we get during the novel. I mean we all know about the complicated politics of the European monarchies, the extravagance of the old aristocracy, etc. but we get more than that here. Lee tackles such complex and little-known topics as homosexuality, race relations and “mental” illness during this time period – parts of everyday life that really never get consideration or exploration in school or most literature. I really respected and was fascinated by that. And I extra love that she took time after the end of the book to give notes to the reader on the actual situation at the time regarding these topics, or at the very least, what info we have (to the best of our knowledge).
This is a wonderfully old-fashioned rollicking romance for a new generation. Monty and Percy’s affection for each other is real and unsure and troubled and adorable, just like every young love. Plus, it’s in the backdrop of a wild adventure, a historical fiction caper of fun and danger and a little alchemical mystery. This is a (mostly) lighthearted, swooning sort of tale that was pure entertainment from start to finish. What’s not to love there?! I can totally see what the fuss was about.
Just some other thoughts/quotes I enjoyed:
“It’s a strange feeling, realizing that other people you don’t know have their own full lives that don’t touch yours.”
“It is impossible to explain how you can love someone so much that it’s difficult to be around him.”
“It makes me brave, the sudden chance of it tying stones to the fear and loneliness of one-sided wanting until they sink out of sight.”