Book: The Lady’s Guide To Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2)
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Bechdel Test: PASS-Felicity, Johanna and Sim all have many conversations which do not revolve around boys.
Content warnings: Sexism, racism, colonialism, blood, implied threat to harm animals
This book was my #RockMyTBR book for May and I was both excited and a little nervous to read this one. I love Felicity, but obviously when I read the first book, I was unaware of the more…..problematic things that Mackenzi Lee had done so obviously I read this one with a little more awareness of that than I had when the first book. I liked Monty’s book a little better, I thought it was funnier and had more adventure, but I still really enjoyed this one. It was so great to see a historical book centring women, all with different dreams and ambitions but all treated as equally valid. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of 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 window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own 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 leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.
Felicity was one of my favourite characters from the last book, so naturally I was thrilled that she was centre stage in this one. Her style of narration was very different to Monty’s drier, and more serious, but I still enjoyed it, it was funny in a different way, more sarcastic. She’s not the easiest narrator, she’s selfish and prickly and a little harsh but it made sense for her character and it was great to watch her learn and grow throughout the book.
The other two main female characters were equally brilliant. Johanna in particular, I really loved, she’s Felicity’s best friend from childhood whom she has grown apart from after a bitter falling out two years ago. Johanna is a more “traditional” 18th century woman, she likes pretty dresses and makeup and her big slobbery dog, Max but she is also smart and brave, and is determined that no one, especially not Felicity will treat her lesser because she enjoys femininity. Honestly, Felicity at the beginning definitely doesn’t deserve a friend like Johanna, so kind and caring that she doesn’t slam the door in Felicity’s face when she arrives at her wedding unannounced, just in order to get to her fiance. Sim was very intriguing though I would say that she doesn’t get as fleshed out as the other two, which was a shame as she was probably the most interesting of the three characters, with her career ambitions being to take over her father’s fleet.
The chapters, like in the first book, were a little overly long, 20-30 pages each is a bit much for me over one chapter! I also felt like it could have been a little shorter, as the pace seemed to drag in places.
Obviously feminism is central to this story, though it’s not referred to given the time period, but all of the women in the book are trying to gain equality in some way or another. I LOVED how Johanna confronted Felicity on her internalised misogyny and showed how just because Johanna was a different kind of woman to Felicity, didn’t mean Felicity should look down on her for it, that confrontation was probably one of my favourite sections of the book. I would have liked if the intersectionality between Sim’s race and her gender had been explored more, that kind of got a bit brushed over, though I suppose since she her society is African, the fact that her father wanted to give his command to her brothers and not her, wasn’t really a race issue.
I loved how much focus on friendship there was in this novel! So often in YA, friendship gets brushed aside in favour of romance, and it was so lovely to see a book where friendship was key. I also loved how it explored the breakdown of Felicity and Johanna’s friendship because friendship breakups are definitely something that is under acknowledged in YA.
I did find Lee’s writing enjoyable and easy to read, though I will admit, Felicity’s inner monologue got kind of repetitive. Obviously I agree that women should be equal to men and it sucked how sexist 18th century society was, but I didn’t need to hear it over and over again.
Obviously the LGBTQIA+ rep was great in this book once again, we get to explore Felicity’s asexuality, which was only hinted at in the first book and that was great to see.
I will say though that I wasn’t massively impressed with how the race rep was handled (and I think I was being more critical here after Mackenzi Lee’s IRL actions) as though she does try to tackle Johanna and Felicity’s imperalist attitudes, it does come across as “Look, there can be good colonialists and bad ones” and the fact that Felicity and Johanna end up being two white girls in an African pirate gang….I don’t know how well that sits. I also wasn’t massively keen on the scene where Felicity removes Sim’s headscarf to use as a bandage for a wound, didn’t seem all that respectful to Muslims.
The fantasy elements in this one again felt kind of out of place, I’m not exactly sure why Lee tries to shoehorn these in when they don’t really fit. Much as I love dragons, they don’t really fit in the 18th Century, or any novel set in a real world setting! I was expecting some sort of fantastical twist after the first book, but it still felt clumsily done.
The sexism of the medical profession in the 18th century was handled very well, though it obviously made my blood boil. Felicity’s hero Dr Platt was categorically THE WORST and definitely proves why “Don’t Meet Your Heroes” exists, even if it’s not always true. The scene where Felicity mentioned menstruation in front of all the medical doctors and their insane reaction to it made me laugh so hard.
Much like the first book, Lee does dialogue very well in this one, some of Felicity’s one line quips in this one were amazing!
We also get to see Monty and Percy again in this one, and though they aren’t main characters, it was lovely to see them all loved up and happy. The moment where Felicity calls Percy her brother really made my heart melt and it was lovely to see them bond more in this one.
I felt like there wasn’t a massive amount of piracy in this book for a book that has piracy in it’s title? I don’t know, I just love pirates and would have liked to have seen more.
Lee’s Author’s Note at the end talking about the real life women who inspired the book was really interesting to read, though perhaps a little long!
Overall I really enjoyed this book, it was great to see Felicity take centre stage and follow her adventures and any book that puts a focus on female friendship is pretty much guaranteed to be something that I enjoy! I’m looking forward to the final book coming out in August and seeing what shenanigans Felicity and Monty’s younger brother gets up to!
My Rating: 4/5
My next review will be of Elizabeth Wein’s newest release, The Enigma Game, which I should have up on Thursday as that’s it’s publication date.