Top 10 Badass Spring 2018 Book Covers — And The Stories That Go With Them

If you’ve read even one sentence of an author’s acknowledgements at the end of a novel, you know that there are plenty of unsung heroes in the publishing world. From editors and agents to marketing teams and beta readers, more work goes into writing, publishing, and selling novels than one might originally believe. Writing may be thought of as a solitary art, but writing for publication is anything but lonely.

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If you’ve read even one sentence of an author’s acknowledgements at the end of a novel, you know that there are plenty of unsung heroes in the publishing world. From editors and agents to marketing teams and beta readers, more work goes into writing, publishing, and selling novels than one might originally believe. Writing may be thought of as a solitary art, but writing for publication is anything but lonely. But what sells a novel? What catches your eye when you walk into a bookstore or library?

The cover art. The first thing a reader sees when they pick up a book for consideration, covers have to convey mood, subject, and entice the reader. Everything from word spacing and font size to that exact shade and that precise image works to sway readers. And this job is one that, while important, goes largely unacknowledged.

That considered, here are ten badass book covers to look forward to in Spring 2018 – and oh, yeah, the stories that go along with them are pretty intriguing, too.

  1. Chemistry Lessons by Meredith Goldstein, cover art by Whitney Leader-Picone, Leonello Calvetti, and Connie Gabbert.

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Debuting on June 19th this year, Chemistry Lessons is Goldstein’s third book – and second one expected this year! (Can’t Help Myself: Lessons and Confessions From A Modern Advice Columnist, a memoir and collection of Goldstein’s Boston Globe advice column, hits shelves on April 3rd.) Romance meets science in this upcoming novel, making it a can’t-miss for 2018. Just see for yourself:

For seventeen-year-old Maya, the equation for happiness is simple: a dream internship at MIT + two new science nerd friends + a perfect boyfriend = one amazing summer. Then Whit dumps her out of the blue.
Maya is miserable until she discovers that her scientist mother, before she died, was conducting research on manipulating pheromones to enhance human attraction. If Maya can finish her mother’s work, maybe she can get Whit back. But when her experiment creates chaos in her love life, she realizes that maybe love and loss can’t be understood using the scientific method. Can she learn to trust the unmeasurables of love and attraction instead?

This YA novel features a poppy, vibrant cover, a perfect combination of sweet romance and the science side of the story, designed by Connie Gabbert, Leonello Calvetti, and Whitney Leader-Picone. Its simple yet unique design is sure to turn eyes! You can find Connie Gabbert and Leonello Calvetti’s work on their respective websites (Gabbert) (Calvetti), and read up on Whitney Leader-Picone, senior designer at Mifflin Harcourt Books, here.

  1. A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by various authors, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, cover art by Feifei Ruan
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If you’re in the publishing industry, you’ve heard of We Need Diverse Books, an organization whose goal is to diversity children’s literature and put the spotlight on minority authors. If you’ve been in the publishing industry for longer than five seconds, your first thought was probably, “Finally!” Get ready for your excitement to skyrocket, people: A Thousand Beginnings and Endings is a young adult anthology of East and South Asian short stories! Take a moment to breathe, and read on:

Star-crossed lovers, meddling immortals, feigned identities, battles of wits, and dire warnings. These are the stuff of fairy tale, myth, and folklore that have drawn us in for centuries.
Fifteen bestselling and acclaimed authors reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia in short stories that are by turns enchanting, heartbreaking, romantic, and passionate.
Compiled by We Need Diverse Books’s Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman, the authors included in this exquisite collection are: Renee Ahdieh, Sona Charaipotra, Preeti Chhibber, Roshani Chokshi, Aliette de Bodard, Melissa de la Cruz, Julie Kagawa, Rahul Kanakia, Lori M. Lee, E. C. Myers, Cindy Pon, Aisha Saeed, Shveta Thakrar, and Alyssa Wong.
A mountain loses her heart. Two sisters transform into birds to escape captivity. A young man learns the true meaning of sacrifice. A young woman takes up her mother’s mantle and leads the dead to their final resting place. From fantasy to science fiction to contemporary, from romance to tales of revenge, these stories will beguile readers from start to finish. For fans of Neil Gaiman’s Unnatural Creatures and Ameriie’s New York Times–bestselling Because You Love to Hate Me.

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings’ intricate, elegant cover captures the eye and pulls one in. A wondrous homage to traditional Asian art and seems to pull the sky into its background. You can find Feifei Ruan at her websiteand don’t forget to check out We Need Diverse Books while you’re online! The anthology is expected June 26th.

3. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, cover art by Rich Deas

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Do you ever look at a book, put it back onto the shelf, and a few months later you kick yourself for not hopping on the train earlier – because now, the series has taken off and there are spoilers everywhere? Take this as a sign to pick up Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, the first instalment in the Legacy of Orïsha series. Slated to hit the big screen in the future, this novel is not one to miss. Take a look:

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.
But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.
Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

The cover design by Rich Deas, readers are immediately met with an intense, regal, and magical impression of the story to come. The use of simple black and white colouring, with pops of red and blue, make this cover stand out like no other. You can check out Rich Deas at his websiteThis book hits shelves March 6th.

  1. Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed, cover by Shehzil Malik

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It takes a lot for me to look beyond my little cave of SF/F/horror/mystery. Few are the books on my shelf that lack swords, magic, and creatures that belong in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. But upon finding Amal Unbound, I found I couldn’t resist featuring this book. Its plot is compelling, its themes relevant, and promises to be an excellent read. Debuting May 8th, you don’t want to miss this:

Life is quiet and ordinary in Amal’s Pakistani village, but she had no complaints, and besides, she’s busy pursuing her dream of becoming a teacher one day. Her dreams are temporarily dashed when–as the eldest daughter–she must stay home from school to take care of her siblings. Amal is upset, but she doesn’t lose hope and finds ways to continue learning. Then the unimaginable happens–after an accidental run-in with the son of her village’s corrupt landlord, Amal must work as his family’s servant to pay off her own family’s debt.
Life at the opulent Khan estate is full of heartbreak and struggle for Amal–especially when she inadvertently makes an enemy of a girl named Nabila. Most troubling, though, is Amal’s growing awareness of the Khans’ nefarious dealings. When it becomes clear just how far they will go to protect their interests, Amal realizes she will have to find a way to work with others if they are ever to exact change in a cruel status quo, and if Amal is ever to achieve her dreams.

The cover art by Shehzil Malik is vibrant, warm, and hopeful. These days, black covers with harsh, angry illustrations are the norm. It’s refreshing to see something tranquil and earthy. You can find more of Shehzil Malik’s work on here and check out the process of fleshing out and finishing the design for Amal Unbound here.

  1. The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde, cover art by Becca S. on Swoon Reads

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Bisexuality is so rarely seen in books these days. Either the characters are purposefully ambiguous about their sexuality, or readers are queer-baited into an almost-progressive story. Seeing a novel that puts bisexuality in the spotlight right out of the gates is more than refreshing.

As a rock star drummer in the hit band The Brightsiders, Emmy King’s life should be perfect. But there’s nothing the paparazzi love more than watching a celebrity crash and burn. When a night of partying lands Emmy in hospital and her girlfriend in jail, she’s branded the latest tabloid train wreck.

Luckily, Emmy has her friends and bandmates, including the super-swoonworthy Alfie, to help her pick up the pieces of her life. She knows hooking up with a band member is exactly the kind of trouble she should be avoiding, and yet Emmy and Alfie Just. Keep. Kissing.

Will the inevitable fallout turn her into a clickbait scandal (again)? Or will she find the strength to stand on her own?

This being my first time truly researching cover artists for books, I was surprised and delighted to find that the cover artist for The Brightsiders is one Becca S, a designer on Swoon Reads. The cover is bright, outlandish, and coquettish, proudly featuring the colours of the bisexual flag. The placement of the title is so interesting. It’s bound to attract readers to this book. You can check out Becca’s profile on Swoon Reads here Make sure to get your copy on May 22nd.

  1. The Beast’s Heart by Leife Shallcross, cover art by Jo Myler, Fleur Clarke, Kate Sinclair, and Daren Newman

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Who doesn’t love a good retelling? Take an old classic and turn it on its head, make it something new. In The Beast’s Heart, author Leife Shallcross tells the story of Beauty and the Beast from the Beast’s view. Check it out:

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast’s side of the story at long last.

I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.

My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.

And now I might lose her forever.

Lose yourself in this gorgeously rich and magical retelling of The Beauty and the Beast that finally lays bare the beast’s heart.

The cover, design by Jo Myler, Fleur Clarke, and Kate Sinclair, and type/illustration by Daren Newman, is pure Victorian aesthetic. Deep blue and copper designs like wrought-iron gates set the stage for an intricate and marvellous tale ahead. Shadows play lattice to creeping florals, the perfect combination between dark and harsh metallics, and a gentle, blossoming pop of colour. You can see more designs by Jo Myler here, as well as check out Daren Newman’s exceptionally minimalistic website here. Kate Sinclair can be found here and Fleur Clarke on Twitter. The Beast’s Heart comes to a bookstore near you on May 3rd.

  1. Evangeline of the Bayou by Jan Eldredge, cover art and illustrations by Joseph Kuefler

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Coming to shelves on May 1st, Evangeline of the Bayou is a promising Louisiana tale by Jan Eldredge featuring the gorgeous artwork of Joseph Kuefler. And as most children’s books go, I predict this tale will be for everyone of all ages to enjoy. Read on:

Twelve-year-old haunt huntress apprentice Evangeline Clement spends her days and nights studying the ways of folk magic, honing her monster-hunting skills while pursuing local bayou banshees and Johnny revenants.

With her animal familiar sure to make itself known any day now, the only thing left to do is prove to the council she has heart. Then she will finally be declared a true haunt huntress, worthy of following in the footsteps of her long line of female ancestors.

But when Evangeline and her grandmother are called to New Orleans to resolve an unusual case, she uncovers a secret that will shake her to the soles of her silver-tipped alligator-skin boots.

Set in the evocative Louisiana bayou and the vibrant streets of New Orleans, Evangeline’s is a tale of loyalty and determination, the powerful bonds of friendship and family, and the courage to trust your gut no matter how terrifying that might be.

If the cover is any indication of the story to come, we’re all in for a treat. It shows a monstrous tale of adventure, bravery, and terrifying creatures. With a shadow quite literally foreshadowing a monster right on the cover, it was a no-brainer to add this book to the list. Check out more of Joseph Kuefler’s work here.

  1. The Queen Underneath by Stacey Filak, art by Rosie Gutmann

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I cannot compile a list of books without including fantasy. Even if it’s a list of mystery or sci-fi books! I will slip one in there. The Queen Underneath was an easy pick for me. Being Stacey Filak’s debut novel, I predict this one is one to watch out for. Challenging gender roles, a female protagonist, LGBTQ+ themes… Just check this out and see what I mean:

The Above and the Under have a tenuous truce that is shattered after the death of both their respective rulers. Gemma, the new queen of Under, must throw history aside and team up with Tollan, the heir to the Above throne, in order to take down a power that seeks to rule them all.
Their group of rebels is comprised of an assassin, a sex worker, and a palace servant from Above, and we follow their unique perspectives as they are forced to question previously held beliefs. But even with war looming, romance still grows. Challenging gender roles and the expectation that every prince must have a princess, Tollan discovers love with Elam—a young man, a sex worker, and one of Gemma’s closest friends.

Rosie Gutmann did a phenomenal job on the cover art. Lustrous twilight backs a black city skyline, flanked by thorny golden vines. From the intricate symbol at the cover’s centre and the gorgeous type for the title, this book practically grabbed my eyeballs and held them in place. No doubt this will intrigue many readers to come. Check out Rosie Gutmann’s blog (she’s a book reviewer, too! Hi! -Waves-) here. The Queen Underneath is expected on May 8th.

  1. Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson, cover art by Corina Lupp and Michael Frost

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This book has been on my TBR list for awhile. I am beyond excited to list it here as an upcoming spring debut, because that means I can finally get my hands on a copy! Lily Anderson, author of Not Now, Not Ever and The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, dives into 2018 with Undead Girl Gang, a young adult novel equal parts fantasy/mystery. And let me just say, as someone who actually does practice witchcraft, seeing this movement of modern witches and magic in the literary world is so much fun. This books hits stores on May 8th, but here’s a little blurb to tide you over for the next few months:

Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.

So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.

Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again.

With a fresh, occultish cover repping this story, readers will be flocking to shelves for their own copy. The design moves witchcraft into modern era, featuring tarot cards, crystals, athames, and a pinky-swear solidarity between witches and undead. Oh, I do love some feminist necromancy. You can check out Michael Frost’s portfolio here, and with book covers such as Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens and Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen under his belt, I’m sure we’ll see plenty more exceptional cover art from Frost in the future. Corina Lupp is a designer at Razorbill, a branch of Penguin Random House Canada.

  1. The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan, cover art by Sasha Illingworth

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I believe I saved one of the best covers for last. The Astonishing Colour of After, hitting bookstores March 20th, promises to be a magical, heartfelt, and emotional tale of loss, rediscovery, and forgiving oneself. Having been a co-creator of Foreshadow: A Serial YA Anthology, this is Emily X.R. Pan’s debut novel. Why do I think we’ll be giving Pan a standing ovation come award season? Take a look at the book’s description:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

The cover design is just as astonishing as the title suggests, a deep red and purple ombre playing background to a crisp, white bird that carries the title and author’s name in its body. The entire design emits an aura of freedom and hope, the bright colours rich and evocative of deep emotions. This will definitely turn heads in bookstores. Check out Sasha Illingworth’s work here.

So, what’s your favourite cover art of 2018? Has it already been published? Are you looking forward to taking a selfie with it? Do you have any favourites for summer 2018? Do you have a favourite cover designer or artist? Let me know in the comments, or chat with me on Twitter!

Disclaimer: As with most unpublished novels, information on all the people that worked on these projects isn’t always readily available for researchers such as myself. I’d like to thank Meredith Goldstein, Lily Anderson, Liz Deadrick, Ellen Oh, Leife Shallcross, and Madison Taylor for taking time out of their schedules to help me name a few artists who deserve some credit. If I have missed anyone in this list, or you feel someone else deserves credit for a design featured here, please let me know and I’ll add their name and website (if they have one).

Image Credits: Goodreads

 

A Bloody Good Time (POSITIVE)

Maniscalco proves her skills have only increased between novels. She maintains a keen ability to strike emotion into her readers, from anguish and anxiousness to jealousy and laughter. Most prominent of all is her ability to terrify her readers. (If you make it through the “Spider Chapter” [as I’ve dubbed it] without shuddering, I salute you.) With an intimate and confident voice, a talent in casting doubt, and a satisfying ending, Maniscalco has once again proven she is a literary force to be reckoned with.

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(Photo Credit: Goodreads)

Title:  Hunting Prince Dracula

Author: Kerri Maniscalco

Publisher: Little, Brown

Genre: Fiction (YA, horror, mystery)

Year: 2017

Pages: 430

Price on Amazon: $24.99 CDN

“For the second time that evening, a horrid image of Miss Mary Jane Kelly’s corpse crossed my mind, as it often did when I imagined something truly brutal. Her body has been destroyed by Jack the Ripper until it barely resembled anything human.

“I closed my eyes for a moment, willing myself to remain calm and steady, but the feeling of being watched persisted. The forest was charming during the daylight hours, but at night it was forbidding and treacherous. I vowed never to leave my rooms in the dark again.

“Werewolves and vampires are not real. There is no one hunting you… Vlad Dracula is dead. Jack the Ripper is also deceased. There is no…

“A branch snapped somewhere close by, thudding to the ground, and my entire body went numb.” — Kerri Maniscalco, Hunting Prince Dracula

To review a single book within a series is a task often riddled with retractions. One book leaves blank what the next fills in. Questions are answered later, and the reader must see the series as a single story with multiple arcs. It is a problem that makes me want to read a series in its entirety, then review it as a whole.

In my last review of Maniscalco’s book, Stalking Jack the Ripper, I lamented that the ending felt rushed and wished there had been more focus on Audrey Rose’s emotional turbulence following the mystery’s traumatic conclusion.

Hunting Prince Dracula, the second thrilling installment in Audrey Rose’s adventures, mends every qualm and question I had with the first book.

Audrey Rose Wadsworth and Thomas Cresswell travel to Romania to compete with each other and a class full of aspiring forensics students for a place at the exclusive Academy of Forensic Medicine and Science. But before the first class even begins, the two are flung into their next case: someone is imitating the long-deceased Vlad Dracula, staking some victims through the heart and draining the blood from others. And when students of the academy begin dying and disappearing, the castle filled with suspects and teeming with motive, Audrey Rose and Thomas must solve the mystery– preferably before the killer strikes again.

The best way to describe Hunting Prince Dracula is balanced. Like its predecessor, this novel has just the right amount of romance, suspense, intrigue, and action. Maniscalco had me longing for more with every turn of the page, but never starved me of content. Unlike the last novel, this tale had me (wrongly) guessing the culprit’s identity up until the big reveal. As is with the best mysteries, all the clues clicked into place and the story came full circle. No far reaches or suspension of belief. The truth is believable, logical, and — in hindsight — obvious.

To those who enjoyed Stalking Jack the Ripper and want to know if Audrey Rose is still the Victorian feminist icon she was, I’m pleased to report that she hadn’t just kept her fierce wit, curiosity, and determination, but has grown from who she was. In this latest novel, we see Audrey Rose tackle disbelieving classmates and professors at the academy, fight for and prove her independence while also knowing when to ask for help, and supporting other women. She truly is an example I wish I’d had when I was a teen.

Oh, that second last line? Yes, you read that correctly. Hunting Prince Dracula features multiple female characters, all of them fleshed-out and individual with personality, motive, and incredible backgrounds. (But you’ll have to read that for yourself.) There is even a gay (or bisexual, as it is never confirmed) couple, who are not questioned or made fun of despite the time period. And for those who claim such a social inaccuracy cannot be excused (“Damn those feminists, those radical gays! Warping history for their own entertainment!”), Maniscalco touches on historical inaccuracies and artistic liberties in the appendix. And after all, when we live in a world where feminists and the LGBT+ community are still marginalized, who doesn’t enjoy a little escape?

Maniscalco proves her skills have only increased between novels. She maintains a keen ability to strike emotion into her readers, from anguish and anxiousness to jealousy and laughter. Most prominent of all is her ability to terrify her readers. (If you make it through the “Spider Chapter” [as I’ve dubbed it] without shuddering, I salute you.) With an intimate and confident voice, a talent in casting doubt, and a satisfying ending, Maniscalco has once again proven she is a literary force to be reckoned with.

Placing out protagonists in a different setting was a move worth making in Hunting Prince Dracula. Maniscalco took full advantage of the Romanian setting, including luxurious and moody landscapes, romantic yet treacherous castles riddled with mystery, and also of the mythology and cultural traditions of the area. While the vernacular of bilingual character seemed a little off (seeming to reinforce the fact that English was not their first language) and a set of poems written in Romanian somehow (frustratingly) rhyming in English may have itched at the back of my brain, all is forgiven thanks to the masterful way with which Maniscalco told this tale.

Hunting Prince Dracula brings Audrey Rose’s story to an entirely new level. We see new parts of her, see her struggle and overcome. She asserts herself and demands her dreams come true. Above all, we see her grow as a forensics student, a detective, and a person.

And there is Cressworth. So. Much. Cressworth. Shippers will be satisfied.

All in all, Maniscalco’s balanced tale of murder, romance, legends coming to life, and a woman choosing bravery each and every time not only seals the last novel’s cracks but raises the bar for the rest of the series. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the next book.

(I’ve changed the way I rate books. Learn more here.)

A Rapscallion Romance

“I turn on my side and find myself face-to-face with him. In the moonlight, his skin looks like polished stone. He smiles at me, so sympathetic it makes me shrivel up. Poor Monty, it says, and I want to die when I think of him pitying me.

Poor Monty, with a father who beats you until you bleed.

Poor Monty, with a fortune to inherit and an estate to run.

Poor Monty, who’s useless and embarrassing.

‘Good night,’ Percy says, then rolls over, away from me.

Poor Monty, in love with your best friend.”

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(Photo Credit: Goodreads)

Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Author: Mackenzi Lee

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Genre: Young Adult (LGBT+, romance, adventure, historical fiction)

Year: 2017

Pages: 513

Price on Amazon: $21.59 CDN

“I turn on my side and find myself face-to-face with him. In the moonlight, his skin looks like polished stone. He smiles at me, so sympathetic it makes me shrivel up. Poor Monty, it says, and I want to die when I think of him pitying me.

Poor Monty, with a father who beats you until you bleed.

Poor Monty, with a fortune to inherit and an estate to run.

Poor Monty, who’s useless and embarrassing.

‘Good night,’ Percy says, then rolls over, away from me.

Poor Monty, in love with your best friend.” – The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Mackenzi Lee

Relevancy, in novels, is a great thing to have but unnecessary if lacking. A story can be purely adventure, or romance, or comedy, even if there’s no academic or social value to it in the end. The true purpose of storytelling is debated, each participant usually falling into one of two categories: enjoyment and escapism, or morality and understanding. And while a novel doesn’t have to thrill its readers or teach them a lesson in order to be classified as good (I think we’ve all read “groundbreaking” books that proclaim to be “instant classics” but have left us bored, unchanged, or both), it does help that a novel be both exciting and important for it to be a success.

Mackenzi Lee’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue shows that relevance, escapism, and, yes, historical accuracy can exist in the same novel and still reach new literary heights.

To summarize, this novel is about Henry “Monty” Montague, the son of an English lord and next in line to inherit a property he doesn’t want and a life he could do without. Rather, he enjoys drinking, gambling, smoking, and wild nights with ladies and gentlemen alike. He is soon to embark on his own Grand Tour (a journey taken across Europe, intended to educate as well as let out all that youthful energy before adulthood takes hold). With him, he takes his best friend Percy, with whom he is tragically in love, and his younger sister, the bookish Felicity.

Going into this novel, I had high hopes. As a proud pansexual, I was excited to read about a bisexual man. Whilst gay and lesbian protagonists are rare, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual protagonists are even rarer still, and finding a novel featuring one (much less a good novel that fits one’s personal tastes) is no small feat for the average reader. I am proud to say that Lee not only met my expectations but exceeded them tenfold, and taught me a lesson or two.

First, I want to focus on the characters. Monty is, without a doubt, the most well-written character of the novel. He is relatable, charming, and funny, but he’s also self-conscious, and vain, and has addictions. And all of these flaws play into the story as much as his virtues. Lee has masterfully created a character so perfectly fit for this plot that every coincidence, surprise, and unbelievable stroke of luck seems… well, believable. Our other main characters, Percy and Felicity, fill in the gaps with finesse. The trio is perfectly harmonized, and Lee allows us to forget that they’re all under 18. Until she doesn’t. And it hits her audience right in the chest.

Whilst Percy’s role is arguably the most important in the novel, I can’t speak entirely on his character. He is biracial, and I am not, thus I can’t judge what was good or bad about his portrayal in that regard. However, I will say that it’s refreshing to see a black man in this role; he is softspoken, gentle, smart as a whip, he is treated as Monty’s equal, and – most importantly – he isn’t straight. Coming in behind racially diverse LGBT+ works such as Moonlight, Lee smashes harmful tropes and unabashedly writes Percy as a person, but doesn’t ignore his race in certain areas of the novel where it is relevant. Rather, she allows racism to wade into the mix (as it would, considering the time period) and doesn’t let the entire story hinge on it. Percy is the voice of reason, his background bright and interesting but only just touched upon. I wish I could have read more about him.

Felicity is the kind of character I created this blog for. (Really, this novel is the reason Literary Nocturne lives.) Without spoiling anything, she is much more than she appears to be. Lee writes Felicity as I imagine so many women in that time period would have been: academics, hungry for knowledge; brave and bold and fiercely protective over what they love. Felicity doesn’t cut her corset strings or immediately wear pants once it’s convenient to do so. She keeps the traditionally-feminine garb whilst destroying every barrier put before her. Her sexuality isn’t the focus, and Lee doesn’t dwell on the fact that Felicity is defying what is expected of her. Whilst this novel is, at some points, about rebellion and defiance of harmful roles, the author doesn’t pat herself on the back for it or make Felicity (or anyone) raging or unbearably heavy-handed in their actions. Lee lets her characters be people before they are movements, lets them exist outside of their traits instead of making their entire lives political. Monty is bisexual, but that isn’t all he is. Percy is biracial, but that isn’t all he is. Felicity is a feminist, but that isn’t all she is.

Feminism is an important theme in this book. Lee allows her male characters to have emotions and physically, visibly express them. She allows tears to fall and for Monty to admit he’s feeling embarrassed or stupid or inadequate. This is something that I dearly admire.

But this story isn’t all adventure and flirting with death and party guests. The darker parts are perhaps the most important parts of the novel, because they both teach the audience a lesson and accentuate the light.

I anticipated the passages where Monty fully expressed his bisexuality, partially because such expression is so rare and needed these days, and partially because it’s a real thrill to see someone flirt without abandon and live vicariously through them. But when I reached passages that weren’t glittering ballrooms and smoky pubs, parts of this novel that detailed Monty’s abuse at his father’s hand or talk of suicide and self-hatred and a wish to change, I admittedly did not want to read it. And during parts that I tried not to cry, reading the sad truths of abuse and PTSD and suicidal ideation, I realized: Lee is telling Monty’s story as a whole. To some people, being part of the LGBT+ community is about Pride; dancing, glitter, neon tutus, and nipple pasties.

But why do we have this community? Why do we have our own rainbow-clad districts? Pride isn’t just glitz and glamour; it’s about the riot that was our first parade. Monty’s story isn’t all flirtation and arousing fiascos. It is the raw, rancid ache of being different. It is the story everyone in the LBGT+ community knows so well. And this story, whilst indescribably painful to read in parts, needs to be told. Because being savagely beaten by one’s father because he caught one with a lad isn’t a reality that we left in the 1700’s. This is something that is happening right now. Right this second, all around the world, there are young people living Monty’s reality. And until that stops, stories like these are necessary, no matter how painful they are to read.

But there is light. Yes, I know, we’re accustomed to one half of every queer relationship in popular culture being killed off. To our stories being focused on what stands against us rather than what we’re fighting for. But without spoiling much, the ending was fitting. It was refreshing. It made me cry.

I do not cry. But this did it.

Yes, there are very hard parts in this novel, parts that could potentially trigger abuse survivors. But there are good people, good happenings, and happiness. Do not go into this novel expecting what the rest of the world has given us.

Lee also touches on a few other topics such as chronic illness and what it means to be disabled, as well as life beyond illness. This book is highly intersectional in that we have race, gender, sexuality, and disability crossing over among multiple characters, who react to everything in different ways as per their personalities. Lee presented us this tale with a masterful hand, never dwelling on the touchy subjects but also never shying away from them.

Now, jumping from the story to the writing itself, I agree with Lee’s choice of writing first-person present tense, as it leaves a few surprises right up until the end and gives the entire story a sense of action. I do have a few qualms with the way certain scenes are described. We’re to be in Monty’s mind, and whilst I’m sure he’s an intelligent man and perfectly capable of coming up with beautiful similes to describe a Parisian night, it threw me off when he was quite obviously drunk and slurring his words yet happened to notice small, plot-necessary details or go on about how beautiful the night was. That is my only problem with the novel, and it’s a small one. Aside, Lee told the story in as few words as possible whilst lingering where need be, kept the action at a good pace, and kept me interested throughout. Perhaps she hasn’t defied the classic laws of writing, but she had redefined LGBT+ literature.

I also would like to commend Lee on her Author’s Note at the end of the story, in which she uses her BA in history to help shed some light on historical accuracy. While she admits that some parts may be a bit of a stretch, she also executes this story with as much adherence to history as possible. Many authors of historical fiction like to take advantage of the average person’s lack of familiarity with history. Lee willingly tells us what is and isn’t true, as well as gives her readers a few interesting tidbits on history. Lee has delivered us this story with eloquence. She has told a tale that is so important for everyone (not just young adults) to read and understand. This story made my heart swell in some places and ache in others. It is romantic, and wild, and abso-bloody-lutely one of my favourites.

I never give stories a perfect 5/5. It is impossible to write the perfect story, and even if I believe I have come across one that is perfect, I know that the author will, in time, grow and become even better. I expect that Lee will bless us with another gorgeous novel one day (Soon? Oh, pretty please?), and I look forward to that day. But for now, I give The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue the highest score I can give while leaving room for more.

4.9/5 Stars