YA Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Title: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Edition: Hardback
Rating: 5/5

At last – the sequel to ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’! Monty and Percy are back, but this time the narrator is Monty’s sister, Felicity. Readers first met Felicity in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’, where she provided the no-nonsense, clear-headed balance to Monty’s reckless drinking, gambling, and womanising. Through her brother’s eyes, she was portrayed as a brave and intelligent travelling companion, always ready to ask the obvious questions, make sensible plans, and stitch up wounds without drama – including her own. She was a strong, inspiring character, hiding her interest in medical science so that she could continue to read and study without interruption, keen to avoid the finishing school her parents had lined up for her.

First-person Felicity is still strong, brave, and sensible, but in this book the reader sees inside her head. The bravery and determination are still there, but we also experience her insecurities, doubts, and disappointments. Telling the story from her point of view makes her at once more relatable and less together than she seemed in the first book. We don’t see someone getting on with something dangerous because it is the right thing to do – we see someone weighing up the options, acknowledging the danger and her fear, and then doing it anyway.

Felicity’s story is no less dramatic than Monty’s in Book One. She is desperate to earn a place at medical school, but as a woman in the eighteenth century she is automatically excluded. Undeterred, she reads medical texts disguised as romance novels, and petitions medical schools in Edinburgh and London without success. When she discovers that her childhood friend is about to marry one of her medical heroes, she travels to Stuttgart to attend the wedding and ask for a job. Of course things don’t go according to plan, and she soon finds herself breaking the law to protect her friend. On the run with two very different female companions, Felicity starts to challenge everything she has come to believe about femininity, strength, and survival.

Mackenzi Lee presents us with three models of female strength. Felicity, with her ambition, and her lack of interest in traditionally feminine social roles; the friend, whose survival depends on being the perfect society lady, throwing the best parties and wearing complicated fashionable clothes; and the headstrong Muslim travelling companion with a mysterious past and a disastrous disregard for the law. As all three women come to understand each other, and work together, they use their strengths to support each other – and to come up with a solution to the central plot point that would never have occurred to the men.

As with ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’, there are strong fantastical elements to the story, but not enough to fully transform the rules and expectations of eighteenth century Europe. As in Book One, the characters challenge each other’s expectations of love, marriage, and relationships, and of what constitutes a successful and fulfilling life. This is an empowering book. Seeing inside Felicity’s thoughts and feelings brings extra dimensions to her character. She becomes more relatable, particularly for readers who might have been told that they are not a proper girl if they don’t enjoy stereotypically feminine activities, wear makeup, or dress in certain ways. But that’s not the only message of the book – Felicity also learns not to discount the girl in the party dress, or the girl in the headscarf, and to find her own way to reach her goals.

I’m looking forward to Book Three in the Montague Siblings trilogy!

Have you read The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy? What did you think of the story? How much do you adore Felicity? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.

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