Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book Review: "The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy" by Mackenzi Lee

It was so good to get back into this series! I loved The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (see my review), Mackenzi Lee's first book in this series, and I hadn't realized how much I missed these characters until I began her new book. Once again, I am so taken by the originality of her ideas, and the way she makes books set in the 18th century feel so modern.

"It would be so much easier if I did not want to know everything so badly. If I did not want so badly to be reliant upon no soul but myself."

For most of her life, Felicity Montague has dreamed of nothing more than a career in medicine, as a doctor or surgeon. Rather than fuss over parties or fashion or social standing, she is most comfortable with her medical texts and science books, where she can learn new things instead of being forced to make small talk. Yet this path is closed off to her as a woman—her family barely cares about her if she's not willing to be married off, and no hospital or medical school will give her an audience, let alone an opportunity to study.

After spending time in Edinburgh, where she hoped to enroll in the city's newly minted medical school, she discovers she is no closer to achieving her ambitions than before. And worse, she must dampen the affections of a kind baker with whom she has worked, as he wants to marry her and essentially "save" her from worrying about her ambitions.

"There are far worse things for a woman to be than a kind man's wife. It would be so much easier than being a single-minded woman with a chalk drawing on the floor of her boardinghouse bedroom mapping out every vein and nerve and artery and organ she reads about, adding notations about the size and properties of each."

With nowhere to turn, Felicity learns that a doctor she idolizes is marrying her childhood friend (from whom she has been estranged since a nasty argument a few years before) in Germany, and there is a chance that this somewhat-unorthodox doctor might have a place for her on his team. She agrees to travel to Stuttgart with a mysterious young woman named Sim, who promises to fund Felicity's travel to the wedding if she can pose as her maid. Despite the fact that Felicity isn't quite sure of Sim's motives, she readies herself to be reunited with her old friend, and hopes her life will change when she meets Dr. Platt.

But when Sim's true reasons for wanting to accompany Felicity are revealed, it upends her plans to get a job, threatens her still-shaky relationship with Johanna, and more importantly, endangers her life, as she becomes mired in a plot to recover scientific artifacts which have effects both sentimental and possibly life-changing. Her involvement pulls her from Germany to Switzerland to Algiers and Gibraltar, and what she sees and experiences toughens her resolve, leads her to some important self-discovery, and opens her eyes to some things she never imagined existed.

"You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in this world of men."

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy is truly a literary jaunt. It's a novel full of adventure, suspense, and some danger, but at the same time, it's a powerful commentary on equality, feminism, gender roles, sexuality, self-belief, and friendship. Yet to have a book explore modern issues against an historic backdrop never seems incongruous, and while at times it feels strange that many of the characters are teenagers given their maturity, I'm reminded of how younger people were considered adults much earlier in those times.

Lee is a fantastic, creative storyteller, and she pays attention to every last detail. I don't know if I loved these characters quite as much as I did Monty and Percy from the first book, mainly because these characters seemed a little less open and accessible emotionally, but I was hooked from start to finish. This is one of those books that is easy to love and not easy to forget.

I hope there's another book in this series coming along sometime soon!!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful review Larry. I've haven't had a chance to read the first book or this book, but I have heard fabulous things about both of them. After reading your review, I may have to bump them up my list.