The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee (2018)
From this very first line, I was enraptured by the new novel by Mackenzi Lee. It's a sequel to A Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, but although I think you should read that one because it's great, it's not necessary to have read it first. The main character in the first book was Henry "Monty" Montague, and this second book is about his sister, Felicity.
Callum is the baker for whom Felicity works, and after she sews up his finger he proposes marriage. But Felicity has always wanted to be a doctor and is not interested in marriage or romance, so after a failed attempt at talking her way into medical school (which won't admit women) she follows a lead and dashes off to Austria in search of her long-time idol, Dr. Alexander Platt. Platt is about to marry Felicity's former best friend Johanna, with whom she parted under less-than-friendly circumstances. Felicity is only able to make the trip with the help of a third woman, a Muslim pirate named Sim, who is absolutely deserving of her own book. Sim has her own motivation for making this trip and, once revealed, the trip develops into a much different kind of adventure.
So I love Felicity: her determination, her intelligence, her sense of justice. I also love that she is not perfect. One of my favorite aspects of this book is the feminism, and it is just as complicated here as in real life. Felicity and Johanna grew up with a matching interest in science and the natural world, but when Johanna started to get interested in things like fancy dresses and social events, Felicity judged her for it. When they reconciled, they had some things to work through and had a great conversation about assumptions and how a person can like pretty dresses and science at the same time.
But she's not just smart and kind of judgmental; she's funny too. In one of my favorite passages, Felicity is trying to change out of her dress in a hurry without any help and it's a struggle.
"I can't even reach the damn buttons running up the back, let alone unfasten them. I keep turning in circles like a dog chasing its tail, trying each time to stretch my arm just a bit farther while holding on to the deranged hope that perhaps if I catch the buttons by surprise they won't dart away from me."
The other two women are also fantastic characters, complicated and imperfect, and this makes them very real and makes the story even more exciting.
A big part of The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue was the romance between Monty and Percy, but this follow-up is not a romance at all. Rather, it's an adventure story with strong themes about friendship and I am totally here for it. In fact, it's strongly suggested that Felicity is asexual/aromantic. Her disinterest in Callum's marriage proposal isn't about him specifically, but about her. She wants to live alone but be surrounded by friends as she pursues her work, and she says that kissing (people of any gender) really does nothing for her. As much as I love a good romance, it's refreshing to have a historical teen adventure novel that is just that. Not everything has to be about romantic love and not everybody has to have it in their life.
This was a super fun story that I enjoyed a lot, and really got me out of the bleak place that The Broken Earth Series took me (and I loved that series, but needed an antidote). It's a teen book so the writing style is light and fast-paced, but there's still a lot going on and lots to think about. It was also different enough from the first book that there's not that pressure to be as good at the same kind of story, if that makes sense. I'll definitely be looking out for whatever Mackenzi Lee shares with us next.