Thursday, December 27, 2018

Review: The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Title: The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Series: The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue
Volume: 2 (Companion Novel)
Genre: historical fiction, fantasy
Release Date: October 2, 2018
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A year after the chaos of her brother's Tour a year ago, Felicity has returned to England, determined to become a doctor. Despite her aptitude for medicine, she meets with dead end after dead end, as no medical school is willing to take on a woman. When she hears that an old friend, Johanna, is marrying a doctor she admires, she decides to make her way to Germany, but to see if she can convince him to mentor her. Cut off by her parents, Felicity doesn't have the money to make the trip, until a mysterious young woman (and possible pirate) named Sim offers her the funds- on the condition that Felicity bring her along disguised as a maid. The plan, however, goes quite awry upon their arrival in Germany, and Felicity finds herself on another adventure.

Out of Ten: 9/10

Review at a Glance: Everything I was hoping for from a Felicity-centred novel, plus dragons.

Review: this was one of my most looked forward to books this year. I loved Felicity in Gentleman's Guide and I was SO EXCITED when it was announced! She holds a special place in my heart as the first ace character that really resonated for me, which was lovely in the first book, and just as great here. Also she's a historical science lady which, as we know, I am always here for. 

For some reason, this one felt a little bit slower to start than Gentleman's Guide did, although that may have been partly because I was juggling it with classes for a bit before I had a chance to sit down and read though it. Or possibly because, while they're both characters that tend to barrel headlong into chaos, Monty is slightly more impulsive than his sister, it seems. (Although... not by much.) Anyway. The writing was still clever and funny, and, once I got into my stride with the book, I really enjoyed it. There was a little bit of the frantic feeling that 

The fantasy element of the historical fantasy is stronger in this one than it was in Gentleman's Guide, and also features so much of what was fantastic about the first book, with it's own unique twist, introduced by Felicity herself. She's ambitious and impetuous and very clever; a vividly crafted narrator and also a fantastically flawed character. One of the really interesting things was that, for all of their differences, in a lot of ways she's very like her brother. 

The rest of the cast, both new and old, was pretty fantastic! It was really great to see Felicity forging relationships with both Sim and Johanna, despite their differences (and, in fact, finding out they share more similarities than she thought, and that those differences aren't always a bad thing) was fantastic. It was lovely to see Monty and Percy again too, and to get maybe a little more closure on their story, and just to see them through Felicity's eyes was fun too. 

Something I found really funny that the events of Gentleman's Guide were in a way almost in Felicity's periphery by this point. Like she looks back and goes "oh yeah there was also that one time we got chased across Europe, but now onward to my story." Something Mackenzi Lee has a real talent for is handling a medley of tougher issues  (in Felicity's case, mainly her struggles with the sexism she faces preventing her from being who she wants to be, as well as her moments of doubt in her own self-worth) while also writing a fun adventure novel.

I really appreciated how Mackenzi Lee handled having a number of queer characters in a time and place when terminology was incredibly limited and same-sex relationships were broadly viewed as unnatural (and illegal... things were not excellent, suffice to say). This is explored more in Gentleman's Guide, but definitely makes it's appearances in Lady's Guide as well, being more broadly contextualised in this one. (If that makes sense?) In the case of Felicity's experiences (which in today's terminology would fall toward the asexual end of the spectrum), I found Mackenzi Lee wrote around the lack of descriptive terminology very well, cutting through to the experience itself, without ever giving the impression that the lack of an existing term meant a lack of that particular experience.

This book also touches on other issues of the social climate in Felicity's world. The discrimination that Sim faces as a Muslim, and a woman of colour (in addition to her sexuality) are all addressed and certainly these things help shape her story, all without her being punished for any of those things. The lack of valuation of women (and therefore all things viewed as feminine), and the way it can seep in to how women think about each other and themselves, is explored at length, with all three of the main female characters. European Imperialism, and the damage it had the capacity to do (and did do, let's face it, pretty much whenever it got the opportunity) was also touched on. Felicity has to confront both the barriers her world presents her with, but also the privileges it gives her, and the blinders those privileges can confer. 

For a book that covers a lot of ground in terms of heavier topics, it also manages to cover a lot of ground physically, taking Felicity and her companions on an adventure that's fantastic to read about. It juggles character development with action, combines fantastic female friendships with a lot of natural history, and overall just contained so many things I like. Mackenzi Lee seems to really like leaving her endings a little bit open... I don't think that there are plans for another book, and the duology feels finished without one but on the other hand... I also definitely wouldn't say no. 

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  1. I haven't read the first book in this series, but I love historical fantasies. From you review, this sounds like a series to check out! (Really, you had me at dragons and the 9-star rating.)

    1. Dragons are really important, this is just a fact. If you do get a chance to read the duology, I'd love to hear what you think!

  2. Aww YES I loved this one too! I think I liked Monty's better just because it was funnier haha, but Felicity is awesome and she had SUCH good character development and a great arc and also the girl gang by the end was just everything. 😍

    1. Yeah, Felicity definitely is a bit more serious than her brother! I really like both of the similarities and the differences in their personalities, it really makes them feel like siblings?