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BookBrowse Reviews The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

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The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

by Mackenzi Lee

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee X
The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2018, 464 pages

    Paperback:
    May 2020, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michelle Anya Anjirbag
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The highly anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue.

After an unorthodox grand tour of Europe with her brother Monty and his now-partner Percy, Felicity Montague has been following her dream of becoming a doctor – or at least, she's trying to. Unfortunately, for an eighteenth-century woman, it's not a career option that she's actually allowed to pursue. Mackenzi Lee's second Montague Siblings novel focuses on Felicity's journey to find herself, and her place, in a world that does not account for her ambitions or passions. Like its predecessor The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, the impeccably researched historical novel is full of adventure and draws from true events and conditions.

While readers do not have to read The Gentleman's Guide, necessarily, to enjoy this novel, I do think that its context adds to the reader's understanding of the world and the family the Montague siblings exist within, and how and why Monty and Felicity created the lives they are living. I wonder if, without that prior knowledge, readers might not buy as fully into their experiences. That being said, Felicity, Johanna, and Sim are believable and dynamic as a trio of strong women, each with their secrets and strengths, each unwilling to just be boxed into the roles that society expects them to play.

When Felicity's hopes of being taken seriously as a student of medicine are stymied in Edinburgh and she faces an unwanted proposal, she sets off on a path to Stuttgart to try to convince the doctor whose work she admires to take her on as a student. But as rules of society and reuniting with an old friend change her plans, she finds herself traveling across the world and farther away from her comfort zone than she could have imagined. Lee's novel, firmly rooted in the 18th century, provides a window into the struggles faced by women who wanted more than society allowed them to have, and explores how they might have coped with their situations. Felicity, Johanna, and Sim each complicate the idea of the "right" way to be a woman. The narrative centers on Felicity's point of view and engages with both her present circumstances and her memories of the past, without shirking from complicated emotions.

If I have any criticism, it is that I wish there had been more time and space taken to really dig into the relationships between the three women, specifically Felicity's internal reflections on her and Johanna's damaged-then-repaired friendship. Especially as the story reaches its climax, I did question if the trust needed between them to resolve conflicts had been built up enough through the trials they underwent together. One of the most common criticisms about historical fiction is that the female characters seem like they have been dropped from the present day into a historical setting and, thus, their reactions, their internal monologues, and their wants and needs are somehow asynchronous with the period. This is something that Lee writes in response to with impeccable, thorough research. Her attention to detail in A Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy allows her to craft believable women who seem of their period.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2018, and has been updated for the June 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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Beyond the Book:
  Women Who Ruled the Waves

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