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I skipped over the first book in this series, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, (I will almost certainly return to it, especially as this series has just been announced to be continuing with a new book in August 2020) because I discovered that the second in the series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, features a protagonist who is asexual like me. And that excited me. This is the first book that I have ever read about an asexual character. This is the first book that I have read that includes any asexual person. Though no such term existed in British English in the 1700s, and it is never used in the text, Mackenzi Lee confirmed it in answering a question on Goodreads, and it is made clear in the text.
Seeing myself in text—and without the whole story being about asexuality—was so important, so fulfilling to me. Reading a teen novel in which the protagonist isn’t at any point seeking a relationship—is in fact seeking not to be in a relationship—is so refreshing. Felicity does have to consider whether or not to settle with a man that she doesn’t love in the way that he loves her, and that undercurrent runs throughout the book, but that actually rings fairly true to my experience with asexuality too unfortunately, despite the 300 or so year difference filled with advances in women’s rights and autonomy between Felicity’s story and mine. (Lee never specifies the year in which her book occurs, but I have determined it to be later than 1726 as that is the year of the founding of the Edinburgh School of Medicine.)
Felicity Montague is living with a Scottish baker when the book opens, and he fumbles a proposal that she flees, going to her brother and his lover in London. She has been turned out of meetings with every hospital board in Edinburgh. She is turned away by another in London, though one of the doctors afterwards suggests that she query her idol, Dr. Alexander Platt, who is currently in Stuttgart about to marry a childhood friend of Felicity’s with whom she had a falling out over their diverging interests. A Muslim sailor offers to fund Felicity’s travels to Stuttgart if Felicity will ask her no questions and will get her inside the Hoffmans’ home. Despite misgivings and her brother’s warnings, Felicity accepts Sim’s help, and the two embark across Europe.
Neither Felicity, Sim, nor Johanna Hoffman are happy with their lot, with the lot of women in the 18th century. Felicity wants to study and practice medicine. SPOILERS Sim wants to inherit the rule of her father’s pirate fleet. Johanna wants to become a biologist. All three seek to enter fields dominated and controlled and policed by men. Felicity writes a note to herself—“You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men.”—words that still bear repeating by women today, taught to keep compliant, subservient, and quiet. That these thoughts echo Tumblr and seem equally comfortable there as in a book set in the 18th century reflect on the slow pace of progress of women’s power.
The women’s attempts to overcome the obstacles of a patriarchal society were as much fun for me as was the chase across Europe and Africa and the possible fantastical turn that the book takes.
I finished this book in August, and I have put copies in the hands of several customers looking for something different, something fun, something to inspire hope since. I have not bought myself a copy yet, but I intend to do so, as I am already wanting to read this book again—and I don’t intend to wait until the book is available in paperback. I’ll look forward to catching up with these characters in August.
Lee, Mackenzi. The Montague Siblings, Book 2: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2018.
Intended audience: Ages 13+.
This review is not endorsed by Mackenzi Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.