The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Written by Mackenzi Lee
Review by Kristen McDermott

“You deserve to be here. You deserve to exist. You deserve to take up space in the world of men.” Felicity Montague is not the first plucky 18th-century heroine to try to make her way in a man’s profession—medicine, in this case—but she’s one of the most appealing and witty.

This volume is a sequel to Lee’s Stonewall Award-winning “queer YA historical romance,” The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, which was set in the 1720s but narrated by a snarky, narcissistic teen who sounded like a blend of Oscar Wilde and Bertie Wooster. She shifts the point of view to the adventurous sister of the previous book’s hero, passionate, awkward, impetuous Felicity, who is anything but a romantic ingenue. Her voice is anachronistic but entertaining, like an appealingly sarcastic (but less lovestruck) Disney-princess teen. Obsessed with making her mark as a scientific genius, she has little patience for social niceties or displays of affection, and it’s quite refreshing to have a heroine who views human love purely as an object of clinical interest, saving her emotional enthusiasm for her relentless quest to force men to recognize her brilliance. Only as the intricately plotted caper unfolds, taking us from Edinburgh to Stuttgart to Algiers to London, and we are introduced to some sympathetic friends, does Felicity begin to learn the value of human connection, and also become “woke”’ to the chauvinism and racism of her own culture.

Lee breaks many of the unwritten rules of YA historicals, but does so with such wit and brio that few readers, whatever their age, will mind. The plot and the historical detail are pretty slapdash, but there’s fun to be had and a deep core of humanity to this fast-paced series.