This is like, one of the first times in my life I’ve been on a hot new book only a few weeks after its release. Like, this isn’t even available in Australia yet. This is what starting a book blog is doing to me!
So, like, disclaimer. I don’t really read a lot of YA. The only ones I do are classic fantasies and hyped up LGBT novels. The last one I really enjoyed Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, when I was still technically a teen. I don’t know – I’m 23 now, I’m just not in the demographic – rarely does anything YA become a massive favourite of mine anymore. But this has Georgian England and Gentleman’s Grand Tours and diversity, something that would appeal to me no matter the ideal demographic honestly.
And yeah, I definitely enjoyed it.
(ok I’m just showing off how well my Venetian glass bookmark goes with my copy hoohoo terribly suitable)
It’s about a rakish, roguish young lord, Henry ‘Monty’ Montague, in the mid-1700s who embarks on his Grand Tour after being expelled from Eton, the last hurrah before he has to return home to begin learning how to run the estate he’ll one day inherit from his father. With him will be his sister Felicity, who is due to be dropped off at a finishing school in Marseilles, and Percy Newton, a half-African bastard child of a lord and Monty’s childhood friend – and long-standing unrequited love. They’ll have to follow his father’s rules if Monty wants to redeem himself. And, well. He doesn’t. Monty turns his Grand Tour into an adventure with his and his friend’s life at stake, still trying to make progress in his love life along the way.
It was just really, ridiculously fun.
This was a romp, a caper, one hell of a fun adventure novel. Don’t go in expecting it to be anything else lol. There’s pirates, travelling carnivals, highwaymen, trips to prison and alleyway fights, all thanks to the shenanigans of our protagonist. And Monty is a great one – a good guy at heart but a complete ass, careless and clueless and also arrogant as a defence mechanism. Under his merriment and has actually been a rather rough life. He’s an ass, but he’s also that protagonist who eventually sits down, listens and learns. The whole novel is narrated by him, and his voice was so distinct and injects a lot of fun and hilarity into the novel.
Felicity was yet another ‘female scholar/scientist in history rebelling against her place’ character that I just love, but sometimes she felt a bit too on-the-nose Cool Badass No-Nonsense Snarky Girl. Not necessarily bad – absolutely fun and a great foil for Percy and Monty – but not necessarily terribly complex either lol.
And in addition to being an adventure, there’s a lot of heart.
The romance between Percy and Monty was sweet, and the way their relationship unfolded and developed actually surprised me – and made total sense for their characters. Percy was a sweetheart, a great foil for Monty and I could see why they fell for each other – and why it took them so long, in the grand scheme of their friendship, to get together. They’re both hardheaded and stubborn, and make ridiculous mistakes and each live under difficult circumstances. But they way they found each other in the end was, aw, it was sweet.
But it actually touches upon some very serious issues – ones that I wasn’t expecting at all. The author set out to write some diversity in historical fiction, and it shows and is very appreciated. It goes into Monty’s childhood, his life as a recklessly open bisexual man in the 1700s, and the consequences he faces from school, his peers, his father. And it goes into the difficulties of those around him, as well, which was what I mainly hadn’t expected. While Monty may be ignorant, blinded by his own privilege and self-centredness and his own internal defence measures, the novel is very much so aware of the hardships facing Felicity and Percy, women, people of colour and disabled individuals in Europe. I was really pleasantly surprised, that such a fun rompy book could pull off exploring these issues and still making
The adorable, happy ending definitely helped, too.
But I still don’t think I was the ideal demographic?
My problem with YA – not even a problem, but why I can never have YA books as absolute favourites – is that it’s all delivered too simply. This book covered numerous universal issues with gravity and respect, so I’m not talking about YA being simplistic, it absolutely isn’t. But everything in YA, across the board, is just all done more… simply, less rich and textured than “adult fiction”. The way the characters were done were just, hmm, for simpler consumption. Honestly, until their ages were confirmed 70%~ of the way through, I couldn’t tell if Monty and co. were supposed to be mid-teens or in their twenties, they veered from wild and sexed up to just sounding so young. It was eighteen in the end, so, fair ground lol.
I kept comparing this to Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John novels, set roughly a decade after this book, which similarly told the story of a gay nobleman in Georgian England, always travelling across the land and onto the continent in his mystery adventures. Except those books truly, vivdly painted Georgian London – and of the German states, of Scotland and even colonial Canada and Jamaica – and the lifestyle of a queer nobleman in that time, specific to the mid 1700s. This… did, but nowhere near as richly as Gabaldon. I didn’t feel it really portrayed the deathly secrecy of being same-sex attracted in the time – at times this was kind of veering into the unrealistic or wishful. Which, hey, the author acknowledges. And apart from a few things this could have been set anywhere from the late 1600s to the Industrial Revolution, not bringing his historical world to life nearly as well as I like in historical fiction, not in the settings nor especially the dialogue.
And, yeah, I feel this was a lot to do with the audience. Because this book and a lot of historical fiction, like Gabaldon, or Heyer, are doing very, very different things aimed at very very different people. This was an adventure novel, then a queer romance, then a historical fiction. But while I would have liked to see some richer historical elements it wasnt enough to put me off the novel. Just made me go ‘ah, YA’.