This book surprised me in the best way. I thought it would be another fluffy young-adult historical fiction novel that veers off into a jolly romp at the expense of getting the time period and the history right. But Ms. Lee takes her research seriously all while providing colorful, rich characters and slamming her readers with adventure.
There is anachronism, yes. There is the spunky sister who secretly wants to be a physician but is being sent to finishing school. There are occasional slips into modern slang (I can't find the first recorded date of "absobloodylutely" but it does seem to be Australian, not English).
Perhaps the novel doesn't commit to its genre early enough. The fact that alchemy is a real kind of magic in this world, not a fruitless scientific pursuit, makes it a touch fantastical, although nothing else in the plot suggests that (and the alchemy turns out to be more of a MacGuffin than something the characters use). And the author herself seems to realize that she sat down to write about a young man who is in love with his best friend and going on his Grand Tour, yet it somehow became an amusement ride instead. Monty nearly breaks the fourth wall with his meta comment, "We've had an adventure novel instead of a Tour."
But I enjoyed the action, and maybe even the surprise of it. I learned to accept that the privateers are unusually sensitive because of their pasts, not cutthroat--when in reality maybe they'd be more violent because of the wrongs committed against them. I only rolled my eyes a little when Felicity stitches a large gash on her own arm without even wincing, because she's that tough and clinical. I decided not to be disappointed that the Duke of Bourbon is a one-dimensional villain. I closed my eyes to the fact that this incredibly important box that drove the action of the book was just sitting on a desk where anyone could take it. I forced myself not to investigate whether Venetian islands can actually sink while you're standing on them. I just went along on the romp.
I loved that Ms. Lee had a goal of telling a story about queer, disabled, bi-racial, feminist characters in a historical setting. I thought it was a nice realistic touch that Felicity never quite accepts Monty's attraction to Percy, though she doesn't get in the way of their relationship.
One tiny plot question: the deal with the privateers was that Percy would go back and get a letter from his uncle allowing them to legally patrol the seas. And yet at the end of the novel our protagonists haven't stopped back "home." Did I miss something? I don't think a long-distance message from Percy to his uncle would suffice in getting that letter--he'd have to show up personally to secure it. Perhaps the sequel will start with their return to England, though my impression is that the second book is about Felicity on the high seas.
(Not: I listened to this in audio, and Christian Coulson's narration is excellent.)
It is impossible to explain how you can love someone so much that it’s difficult to be around him. And with Percy sitting there, half in shadow, his hair loose and his long legs and those eyes I could have lived and died in, it feels like there’s a space inside me that is so bright it burns.
This book is absolutely beautiful. And for this to be on mainstream shelves makes me very happy. I fell in love with all of these characters, and Monty's inner voice was heartbreaking and frustrating at the same time. A character who for the most part grows into a man over the course of this adventure, despite the demons this boy carries. The writing is simply magnificient.
Perhaps he can’t understand it, the way that house will always be haunted for me, even if my father were gone from it. I can’t imagine living in it for the rest of my life, throwing parties in its parlors and filling the cabinets with my papers, all the while ignoring the dark spot on the dining room floor that’s never washed away, where I tore my chin open when my father knocked me to the ground with a single well-swung fist; or the hearth that chipped my tooth when I was thrown into it. There are bodies buried beneath the flagstones of my parents’ estate, and some graves never green.
I do wish we had also gotten sweet Percy's POV or a final scene between Monty and his father. I can only hope that we will get a third book to this series and perhaps a continuation of these boys as they grow further in their love for one another and continue to grow into the men they have become, standing on their own in a world so unaccepting of their love.
Felicity's story it seems is next. I am quite excited to see her continued adventures, perhaps with the "pirates" as she also looks to stand as a woman of purpose in a time where socially her worth has been predetermined.
Such amazingly developed fan art to accompany this beautiful journey.