Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – Brilliantly Feminist and a Shipload of Fun

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Title: The Lady’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: October 2nd, 2018
Genre(s): YA Historical, Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Feminism, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 464 (hardback)

Rating: 9.0/10

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I’m probably one of the few people who thought Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was just a fun, cute story. Good but not great–one that I felt lacked substance in a few places. I came into Lady’s Guide expecting more of the same.

Well colour me surprised, because I didn’t quite expect this. I didn’t expect to be up at 3 AM eyes glued to my tablet screen, grinning and furiously highlighting passages. Because Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy blows the first book out of the water and then some.

Felicity was undoubtedly my favourite character of Book 1 (sorry, Monty). She stole many scenes with her practical, no-nonsense attitude. But here? Here Lee makes sure that she burns wild and piercing like the star that she is. And this is clearly Mackenzi Lee in her element–exploring feminist values within a historical setting through the eyes of a stubborn, brilliant, beautiful young woman who refuses to take “No” for an answer.

Since the events of Book 1, Felicity has been sequestered in Edinburgh where she’s been working at a bakery and petitioning various medical schools to allow her entry (it hasn’t been very successful). When she hears that the renowned surgeon Alexander Platt, her idol, will soon be marrying her childhood friend, Felicity teams up with a mysterious sailor girl named Sim to travel to Stuttgart and meet the good doctor.

Felicity’s narrative voice is a glorious thing. It’s full of dry wit, intelligence, passion, and a whole lot of vulnerability that we didn’t really get a chance to see in Gentleman’s Guide. Even in scenes where there’s not a whole lot going on, Felicity kept me engaged; I didn’t even care about the lack of piracy in the first half because Felicity oozes enough charisma to make up for a whole fleet of pirates. She swings from being relatably, adorably awkward to fire-in-the-eyes confident and sharp-tongued and I don’t know which I loved more.

And my god, her passion. You know when you’re watching someone talk about something they truly, truly love and you swear you can see them light up from the inside out? Like the force of their love is creating thousands of billions of little nuclear fusion reactions all at once in their body?

That’s what it’s like when Felicity talks about medicine. Her passion burns molten hot and you can’t help but be pulled into it. And as Felicity shines, the prose shines with her. I mean, the writing wasn’t shabby in Book 1, but Lee takes it up a few notches with this one:

“I want to know all of it. I want to look at my own hands and know everything about the way they move beneath the skin, the fine strings that tie them to the rest of me and all the other intricate components that fuse together to make a complete person. The mysteries of how a system as delicate and precise as the human body not only exists, but exists in infinite variables. I want to know how things go wrong. How we break each other and the best way to put ourselves back together…I want to know everything about my own self, and never to have to rely on someone else to tell me the way I work.”

The other thing I absolutely loved is the estranged relationship between Felicity and her old friend, Johanna, which I found both wonderful and heartbreaking–wonderful, because their dynamic is so charming and fun and witty and you imagine them riding off into the sunset together; and heartbreaking because there are so many unaddressed hurts standing between them and neither seem to know quite how to navigate through that. Monty and Percy I found cute and sweet. But these two? These two I would die for. They are a beautiful, complimentary pair, with Johanna softening out Felicity’s blunt edges. Add Sim, our mysterious Muslim pirate girl, and we have a group that will satisfy all you readers who are dying to see more female friendships in books (though I did find myself wanting a bit more exploration into Sim’s character).

The book also addresses the way that women look down on other women–the “not like the other girls” mindset–because regardless of how fantastic she is, Felicity isn’t without faults; her intelligence and practicality doesn’t change the fact that she’s still a teenage girl who’s trying to figure things out. And while she likes to believe she’s an advocate of female independence, she’s still, in some ways, parroting the rules that men set for women. Because “Frilly dresses are ridiculous and you won’t be taken seriously in it” isn’t a enlightened statement nor a feminist one. It’s playing right into the belief that there’s something inherently wrong with femininity and objects associated with femininity. And part of her character development is coming to understand that there are so many ways a girl can be a girl. And that being a girl has nothing to do with rebelling against male expectations or conforming to them, but about carving out a place in the world that you’re happy with–whether that involves frilly dresses or science textbooks or both. Seeing her go through that journey is such a rewarding experience.

Everyone has heard stories of women like us–cautionary tales, morality plays, warnings of what will befall you if you are a girl too wild for the world, a girl who asks too many questions or wants too much. If you set off into the world alone.

Everyone has heard stories of women like us, and we intend to make more of them.

The pacing is much improved from Book 1 which had the plot halting and starting in fits. It’s smoother sailing this time around, with tension and mystery building in the middle and more action in the second half.

The only big complaint I have is the fantasy aspect which, like the first book, kind of drops out of nowhere. I’d have much preferred it if the story were a straightforward historical adventure, or if the fantasy elements were woven more evenly. And the fact that none of the characters bat their eyes at the existence of these fantastical things just makes them feel all the more removed from the rest of the worldbuilding.

So to all you librarians, teachers, and parents: this is a book you should be shoving into the hands of every teenage girl in your life. Or everyone, really. Because this is a book for every one of us who have been told, for one reason or another, that we can’t.

You’re Asian, you don’t have the height, you can’t last in competitive tennis.

You’re fat, you don’t have the right body, you can’t dance on stage.

You’re a woman, you’re too emotional, you can’t lead a country.

Well, Felicity Montague says otherwise.

They tell you your dreams are too big, too lofty? Then lift it higher, she says.

All those sneers and laughter thrown at your back make you want to curl up, scream, cry?

Then scream. Cry. And then get back up. And show them how you’re made of steel.

You are not a fool, you are a fighter, and you deserve to be here. You deserve to take up space in this world.

The ending of Lady’s Guide isn’t the end of a journey, but a beginning. And I hope the journey Lee has planned for these characters is a long, winding one that’ll last for years to come.

flourish

Copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

41 thoughts on “Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – Brilliantly Feminist and a Shipload of Fun

  1. jennifertarheelreader says:

    What an endorsement, Kathy! Do I need to read the first book to โ€œgetโ€ this one, or can I skip it since you werenโ€™t too crazy about it? Of course I love the important message. I started dance at a young age, and I was always taller than everyone else. It really bothered my ballet teacher because of the formations and we were in classes based on our ages, not our height. She commented on it all the time, and I equated being tall with being big and it has been at the core of my identity every since. And thatโ€™s nothing compared to the messages that most women are getting like what you listed. Your review is absolutely stunning, and Iโ€™m definitely interested in this book. โ™ฅ๏ธ

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      You can most definitely skip the first book, Jennifer! And I was told as a teen that I’d have a hard time keeping up with the other girls in my tennis group. But then years later an Asian woman won a Grand Slam for the first time, and then a woman who’s just 5’5 won a Slam this year. So never say never! ๐Ÿ˜€ And I’m sure you were/are a lovely dancer! I figure there’s no wrong or right way to approach a hobby/career/etc, as long as we love what we’re doing and are having fun. Though it definitely isn’t always easy to remember that. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. waytoofantasy says:

    Wow, great review. Dude, you don’t even know how excited I am for this book. Like…..so freaking excited. This has made me even more excited. Better than the first one? Holy crap. Ok, let me tamp down my excitement so I don’t throw all my other books out of the window and read this instead when it arrives on Tuesday…..lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery says:

    For some reason, on the strength of the title alone, I thought that this might be a book with the same vibes as Gail Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series – fun and entertaining. But reading your review I could see that, through there seems to be room for fun as well, deeper themes are explored, and that sounds more than intriguing. Another one for the “wanted” list… ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. andywinder says:

    Glad to hear that this book was finally released and that it exceeded expectations! I kind of felt the same way about Gentleman’s Guide–fun, but not the best or most enjoyable queer YA book out there. Glad to hear that this one explored Felicity’s story more and felt more satisfying of a read! Gonna move this one up way higher in my TBR list! Out of curiosity, it sounds like it explores a lot of feminist themes–does it also have LGBTQ themes like the Gentleman’s Guide?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Yup, it does have LGBTQ+ themes! Felicity is aro/ace, but it’s less “I’m trying to figure out my sexuality” and more “I already kind of know where I stand with my sexuality.” (I uh, probably should have mentioned that in the review ๐Ÿ˜…) Hope you enjoy it when you get to it!

      Like

  5. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer says:

    it sounds absolutely incredible Kathy! I admit that I really enjoy fusion stories where modern thinking is put into the historical, especially when its done in a smart way. Incredible review that totally sells me! I didn’t read the first book but I think I need to just skip to the second. โค

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Thank you so much Dani!! And haha so many people are wanting to skip the first book now! ๐Ÿ˜€ I think you can definitely read this one without reading Gentleman’s Guide! And the author makes a note at the end of the book that she gets annoyed when people say it’s unrealistic for female characters in historical fiction to be so feminist, because she thinks feminist values were present in *all* eras of history, just in different ways. I loved that. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  6. arubunwritten says:

    What a fantastically exciting review! I have seen rave reviews for Gentleman’s Guide but I wasn’t totally sure if it was my cup of tea, but I’ve now read two reviews that say the Lady’s Guide is so much better. I wonder if I could just skip the first in favour of the second one? Your reviews always get me so excited for books Kathy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Well, your comments always brighten my day and make me want to write *more* reviews! Thanks so much, Arub! ๐Ÿ˜€ โค๏ธ And I think you can skip the first without issue! Book two’s storyline is pretty much a separate thing from Book One’s. Felicity’s brother and his boyfriend do make an appearance, but I don’t think you need to read Book 1 to understand their dynamic.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Chelsea says:

    Great review, this sounds like such an empowering book! I enjoyed Gentleman’s Guide a lot, mostly because I’m a big historical fiction nerd who feels like there’s never enough YA historical fiction out there, but I’ve been really looking forward to this one. Felicity was my favourite character as well and I’m so glad to know that this book does her justice!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Thank you! And oh I love history too! I know a lot of teen readers say they don’t like historical fiction, but I’m pretty sure that’s because there’s a lack of them in the YA field. And the author makes a note at the end of the book about how she wanted to show how feminist values aren’t just a 20th/21st century thing, but have been present all throughout history. It’s little details like that that make me love Mackenzi Lee ๐Ÿ™‚

      Like

  8. Norrie says:

    Wonderful review! Another series i want to read! The main character sounds lovely!

    Also, the amount of times i heard “well, of course you can’t do that cuz you are a girl” is too damn high!

    Like

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