September 14, 2018

Review: The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee
Grade: B
Release date: October 2, 2018
An e-galley was provided by HarperCollins via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Felicity Montague is through with pretending she prefers society parties to books about bone setting—or that she’s not smarter than most people she knows, or that she cares about anything more than her dream of becoming a doctor.

A year after an accidentally whirlwind tour of Europe, which she spent evading highwaymen and pirates with her brother Monty, Felicity has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of Callum Doyle, a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh; and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a small window of hope opens. Doctor Alexander Platt, an eccentric physician that Felicity idolizes, is looking for research assistants, and Felicity is sure that someone as forward thinking as her hero would be willing to take her on. However, Platt is in Germany, preparing to wed Felicity’s estranged childhood friend Johanna. Not only is Felicity reluctant to opening old wounds, she also has no money to make the trip.

Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid. In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that will lead her from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: I didn't know quite what to expect from the plot to Lady's Guide and I was pleasantly surprised at almost every turn. In a lot of ways, the plot was better than that of The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue. More believable and fun. (Sea dragons, y'all.) It moved at a fairly good pace at the beginning, but I think some of the reveals were saved til too late. The genre sort of switches, and I needed hints earlier on that it was coming.
I appreciated the layers Johanna was given, and I adored her naturalist interests and her love for her galumphing dog. Voice-wise, though, I didn't find Felicity to be the most interesting protagonist. I liked Johanna and grew to like Sim a lot better.
There was something that stood out to me as problematic: Sim, the only African Muslim girl, was seen as a thief and vilified/not trusted for quite a while by Felicity and Johanna. It felt off to me that the only main character of color (besides cameos by Percy from Gentleman's Guide) was portrayed as a sort-of enemy. I'd like to hope this maybe got corrected between the ARC and the finished copy, so we'll see. On the other hand, I also felt like the narrative was trying too hard to be all "social justice warrior" and woke. Of course diversity and change are important, but the way they were used at times in Lady's Guide just felt too forced and heavy-handed.

Content warnings: Violence, sexism, talk about anatomy and medical procedures (I know those things can get kind of squicky for some people).

The Verdict: Pretty good.

Will I be adding this book to my library?: Yeah.

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