“The great and tragic love story of Percy and me is neither great nor truly a love story, and is tragic only for its single-sidedness … Rather, it is simply the tale of how two people can be important to each other their whole lives, and then, one morning quite without meaning to, one of them wakes to find that importance has been magnified into a sudden and intense desire to put his tongue in the other’s mouth.”
This was a delightful confection of a book; just a romping good time. I’ve been looking forward to reading it for ages, so I’m really glad it turned out to be so fun.
Our main character is Henry “Monty” Montague, the son of an earl. He and his best friend Percy are headed out on their Grand Tour, one last year of freedom before Monty will be forced to chain himself to his father and his inheritance, and Percy will be headed to Holland for law school. Only, Monty isn’t exactly the apple of his father’s eye. He’s a rake, boozing and gambling and hopping from bed to bed, and getting kicked out of Eton, and he’s completely unrepentant about it. This tour is his last chance to pull himself together, or his father will disinherit him and give the title to his new baby brother (whom he calls The Goblin). Except it’s worse than that, because Monty’s father is an asshole, and some of those beds Monty hopped to and from belonged to boys (or lads, as Monty calls them). Oh, and he’s in love with Percy, who is biracial, in 17th century England. So there’s lots going on under the surface here.
Mostly though, I found Monty delightful (and Percy, and Monty’s sister Felicity, who gets caught up their misadventures as well). Even as I wanted to smack him in his face for being willful and privileged and selfish, I also wanted to hug him. His relationship with Percy, who’s been his closest friend for their entire lives, is adorable and so lovely even when it’s not romantical (friendship <3). Monty’s father may have sent him on his tour to discipline and put him in line, but he does a more satisfying form of growing along the way.
Oh, and did I mention how this is also an adventure novel? Full of secrets and swashes being buckled and trips to grand cities, with highwaymen and hiding in boats? Lee has noted in several interviews that she wanted to write the kind of adventure novel she liked to read, but with a different cast of characters, the kinds of people mostly overlooked in adventure novels and historical fiction. And I think she succeeded admirably.
The only thing that gives me pause about this book was a certain plot development. SPOILERS Over a third of the way through the book, Lee introduces something weird. Now, normally I’m all for weird, but this just seemed sort of out of place? I mean, alchemists and all that stuff is pretty par for the course for an 18th century setting, but to actually have those things be valid? And to have a dead but not dead woman and her magical heart be at the center of this? It was just a little much. I mean, this wasn’t a fantasy novel, right? It’s supposed to be historical fiction? It’s like, okay, you’re eating a bowl of ice cream, and hidden in the middle is a piece of barbecued chicken, and you get a mouthful of it with your ice cream, and all you can really do is kinda go, “Wha?” It’s not that barbecued chicken is bad, but you don’t exactly expect to find it hiding in the middle of your ice cream END SPOILERS. It just threw me. And I think I would have preferred it to be a red herring rather than real.
All in all, though, a good time was had by all, would read again. (Definitely sign me up for the sequel, which is set to follow Monty’s sister, Felicity.)