by Mackenzi Lee (Goodreads Author)
It was one of a lot of people’s most anticipated books of 2017; when people got it and read it, they loved it; I don’t think I’d seen a single negative review from people whose opinion I trusted and respected. So I went into this book with not necessarily sky-high expectations, but at least the expectation that I would enjoy it.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t. I really didn’t.
And I know exactly why I didn’t enjoy it, because it all boils down to: our garbage, trash-can of a protagonist, Henry “Monty” Montague.
Now, I’d wager you might be thinking: “But, Mad, he’s supposed be an insufferable trash can at the start of this book because it’s all about him learning and growing as a person.”
Mmm…but does he really? Because, at the end of this book, the only thing I saw that had changed was he’d gotten everything he’d ever wanted and learned, well, nothing. There was no lesson taught to Monty. He didn’t adjust his views of the world in any way, even when being repeatedly called out on them by both his best friend, Percy, and his badass queen of a younger sister, Felicity — seriously, this girl is a queen and Monty does not deserve to call himself related to her in any way.
Monty is a rake, to put it politely, and a spoiled, pampered, privileged af, rich white brat who does whatever the hell he wants with little-to-no consequence to put it not-so-politely. He drinks to much, he sleeps with whomever he wants, consequences be damned, and ultimately sees almost everyone in his life, save Percy, as either disposable, usable, or insufferable.
He gives no thought for the well-being of the other people who get caught along with him in his various sexual escapades, especially the women and how their reputations are much more adversely affected than his own; nor even how the situation would be completely different if, say, his friend, Percy — who is a character of mixed-race — was the one who had been caught in such a compromising position. And, oh yes, Felicity and Percy drag him for this, but it neverseems to set in, because there is a point where in the back fucking third of the narrative Monty is still oblivious and Felicity actually says: “If he doesn’t understand it, don’t explain it to him.”
LOUDER FOR YOUR TRASH CAN BROTHER IN THE BACK, FELICITY BB. Truly, a queen that he does not deserve.
But what I find most frustrating about this trash can of a protagonist, is how blatantly manipulative the narrative is in trying to force me to feel sympathy for him.
For nearly the entirety fo the narrative, Monty is never made to own up to his actions in a way that produces serious consequences that actually stick. Instead, characters frequently show Monty undeserved amounts of sympathy and pity, simpering at him how he’s had “a rough go of it” and yet never seem to expect an apology from him in return. Yes, there is at least one moment, where I understand feeling sorry for him, but this is something that is pervasive within the entirety of the narrative, and I find it vomit-inducing. God-forbid Monty just actually become a decent human being — silly, Mad, what am I thinking.
Even characters later, who know him only for a moment, add to the train of people consistently telling Monty that he “has value” (beyond his good looks) — of course he has value in thinking on his feet and getting out of tight spots. Do you know why that is? It’s because he is a human trash can whose consistently abominable behaviour has required him to learn the art of being a good liar and a con man in order to detangle himself from precarious situations. What’s shocking to me is how, if anybody tries to say this to Monty, he merely waves it off as “Oh, haha, I know.” He doesn’t hate himself for it, he doesn’t apologise for it, and it’s clearly not something that truly phases him with the grand exception of when it potentially interferes with his blossoming romance with Percy.
And yet the most horrifically manipulative part of this entire false journey of development for Monty comes in the form of his father. Let’s start with this: we are introduced to Monty’s stern, overbearing, and clearly perpetually-disappointed-in-Monty father very early in the narrative. Monty’s father makes it clear that if his son steps even one toe out of line during his Grand Tour, that he might as well not bother returning home, as he shall not be welcome. He makes particular note that he does not want to hear about Monty being caught with any young men during his Grand Tour. Therefore, yeah, right off the bat: Monty’s father is probably a massive douchecanoe. We don’t get any more interaction with him to confirm this, and all that we hear about him later comes from the lips of people who hate him; therefore we can remember that everyone is already biased against him.
That being said, I am in no way defending Monty’s father when Monty reveals that the man beat him to a bloody pulp after finding out he was sleeping with boys, which eventually led to his expulsion from Eton, an elite all-boys school in England. Abuse of that nature is not okay, but it is the only instance we hear of it, and it’s brought in as a way to say “Oh poor you” to Monty and soften the reader to him. Call me a cold, heartless person, but I’m not swayed by this. I’m not swayed because we already established that Monty’s father is a bit of a douchecanoe, so I wasn’t at all surprised by this. I was, however, surprised by how the narrative seemed to think this gave Monty some sort of moral high ground.
Monty’s behaviour is still appalling and reprehensible, and the narrative should know better than to say that such a revelation cancels out everything we have experienced from him up to that point.
And this is fairly early in the narrative — BUT WAIT…it gets better.
The “climax” of this novel — I use air quotes because I was yawning through most of it — features the final nail in the coffin of the defamation of Monty’s father. We learn that (surprise, surprise), he was just as big of a rake as Monty and that clearly. Must make all of Monty’s behaviour alright, because he’s mad at his father and his father is just as bad as he is.
I repeat: NO.
This provides Monty absolutely ZERO moral high ground. It does illuminate how Monty’s father looks at him and sees all of the same failings that he himself possesses, which adds an interesting element of self-loathing to their tempestuous relationship; it’s not just that he’s a douchecanoe, but a douchecanoe who sees a mirror image of himself in many ways, and tries very hard to stamp it out of his son. The methods are wretched and absolutely reprehensible, but this doesn’t excuse anything that Monty does. And I find it appalling that the narrative is written in such a way that it seriously suggests this.
When this novel finally ended, and Monty makes his verbal promise of “wanting to be better” solely because he got literally everything he wanted while destroying a whole lot of lives along the way and suffering only a physical consequence, I wanted to vomit. I was frustrated beyond belief and was so glad that I’d borrowed this book from the library as opposed to buying it, because it would’ve been a 500+ page waste of money.
The only positives about this novel were Percy, Felicity, and the privateers who appear in the back third of the book. I am firmly of the belief that Felicity, our asexual secret-surgeon-in-training queen, should have been the protagonist; I am firmly of the belief that she should have punted her worthless brother of a fence and left him behind the moment he literally committed robbery out of spite and nearly got them all killed as a result while never apologising for it; and I am firmly of the belief that this book had promise but needed Monty to be less of a trash can or show more clear growth throughout the novel to be worthwhile.
Given the pitch of the sequel, I have a feeling it’ll be infinitely better than this book just because it’s all about Felicity, pirates, and a science girl gang.