With Pride Month 2020 coming to its end, I find it is the perfect time to introduce friends to the Montague Siblings book series. Written by Mackenzi Lee, they comprise The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky (a novella), and The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks (not yet released). Each book is given in account of one of the three Montague siblings, Monty, Felicity, and Adrian, as they each embark on their journeys to fulfil their destinies. Their story begins in the 18th century, when Monty, Felicity, and Monty’s best friend Percy go on their Grand Tour of Europe, which Monty’s father hopes will ‘straighten’ out his son, who has an eye for the lads (and ladies). While on this journey, the three decide to embark on their own destiny as they each have secrets they want to hide.
I felt an immediate pull to the books, and they managed to surpass my expectations. I became completely lost in the writing and fell in love with seeing accurate representation in my favourite genre of literature: historical fiction. Even more, Lee adds a small fantasy element to the story that includes alchemy and dragons (a double score for me personally, especially the dragons). The words flow smoothly across your eyes as you devour the book and also fall in love with a well thought out adventure storyline, where the representation adds to the intrigue and plot of the story, instead of overtaking it. Lee’s sensitiveness in depicting the love of two men is beautiful. It is as if she writes for an audience in an alternate dimension when this type of love has never been stigmatised, and is in fact the norm. However, Lee makes it clear that the characters are not in an alternate dimension, but instead our own past, where their relationship would have been considered sick and inhumane. The characters love deeply and tenderly, even though they must come to terms with outward and internalised homophobia.
I became completely lost in the writing and fell in love with the accurate representation in my favourite genre.
Furthermore, the series analyses the gendered rules of society in the 1700s. Felicity is a headstrong and extremely smart girl who longs to study medicine, the upcoming science of the time despite society’s standards holding her back from the very beginning. But, like with the topic of LGBT+ relationships, Lee addresses feminist issues with succinctness and grace, giving Felicity more depth and ensuring that her adventure is not diminished. And while the terminology for asexuality did not occur at the time (Lee keeps the story highly bound by its historical vocabulary), she strongly suggests it through the design of the book cover: a purple theme with ace of spade cards decorating it, recalling the colours of the asexual pride flag.
Like with the topic of LGBT+ relationships, Lee addresses feminist issues with succinctness and grace
In this series, Lee gives a voice to more than one marginalised community in 18th century society, conquering topics as ranging from belonging to the LGBT+ community to dealing with being a biracial person of colour at the time in England (an experience that is continuously erased from history) to having epilepsy when it was viewed with suspicion and not much was known about it. All in all, I highly recommend you give the series a read and fall in love with the Montagues, as I did–I, for one, cannot wait to see what Lee has in store for Adrian when The Nobleman’s Guide comes out later this year.
Photograph: Daisuke Chen via Flickr