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.
Thank you very much to HarperCollins Australia for sending me a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Everyone has heard stories of women like us—cautionary tales, morality plays, warnings of what will befall you if you are a girl too wild for the world, a girl who asks too many questions or wants too much. If you set off into the world alone.
Everyone has heard stories of women like us, and we intend to make more of them.
To say The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy is my most anticipated novel of 2018 would be a massive understatement. I devoured The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in a mere few hours, so I’ve been patiently (read: not at all patiently) waiting for Felicity’s own novel.
It was worth the wait.
We met Felicity in The Gentleman’s Guide, but of course we only knew her as Monty’s annoying younger sister, so our perception of her was clouded by Monty’s feelings. At the beginning of The Gentleman’s Guide I, like Monty, was occasionally irked by Felicity, but as the novel progressed, I warmed to her. But in The Lady’s Guide, I fell in love with her.
From the very first page, Felicity stole my heart, but I think the moment I complete fell for her is when she yelled at a bunch of old male doctors, attempting to educate them about menstruation. Felicity’s character arc throughout The Lady’s Guide is just phenomenal. She grows so much throughout the novel, and it’s so empowering to read. She begins as a determined young woman, unwavering in her one goal: proving to the world that she is as capable as any man — or even better — and that she deserves to go to medical school. I think my heart broke a little when reading Felicity’s note to herself, listing her merits and her worth as a woman. I know I’ve occasionally felt inept whenever I’ve gone for a job or when I applied for my Masters; I know I’m worthy, but the outside world — particularly that patriarchal outside world — is sometimes strong enough to convince me otherwise. I related to Felicity so much on this point.
There are certainly times where Felicity has a “I’m not like other girls” mindset. She finds it difficult to understand why other women like typically feminine things, such as pretty dresses and dancing, and she judges them quite a lot. Eventually, and through the help of some amazing female friends, Felicity works through her internalised misogyny and comes to understand that women come in all different shapes and sizes: we’re all distinct and unique, and that should be celebrated. Most importantly, Felicity learns that women should not seek to tear each other down, but rather lift one another up.
“I’m so pathetic,” she says, and I can’t tell if she’s laughing or crying. “I’m soft and selfish and sentimental.”
“So wear your softness like it’s armor,” I reply. “And make selfishness your weapon. You’re nothing of the sort, Johanna Hoffman. You are a shield and spear to all the things you love. I’m glad to be among them.”
Felicity is asexual and aromantic, a fact that the narrative addresses in a positive light. There’s not one moment where Felicity is made to feel like her sexuality is wrong; in fact, the friends she makes along the way are incredibly respectful of this part of Felicity’s identity and it was heartwarming to read. I am not ace or aro myself so I cannot speak adequately on whether or not the sexualities were represented accurately, but I think its important that more and more YA novels feature sexualities from the end of the rainbow spectrum that aren’t as often acknowledged as widely as they should be.
Felicity’s #squad consists of Felicity herself and two other women: Johanna, an old friend turned nemesis, and Sim, the Muslim daughter of a pirate king. Johanna is a bonafide angel: she’s soft, sweet, unapologetic but so fierce and strong. She loves openly and without limitations, and wants the world to be her oyster. Sim is an enigma at the beginning of the novel as Felicity doesn’t trust her, but as they grow closer, we learn that Sim is honest and genuine, and definitely someone you want backing your corner. Reading these three women becoming friends was the most heartwarming experience. Imagine a group of women who are told that the only way the should exist in this world is at the pleasure of men, and then those girls carve out a space in which they can wholly be themselves, while sticking up a big middle finger to the men who tried to screw them over. That’s what The Lady’s Guide is all about.
Another important topic this book carefully explores is colonialism. For the sake of not completely spoiling the novel, all I’ll reveal is that Sim’s family are trying to protect their home against invaders and those who would plunder their resources without considering the impact. So, basically, colonisers. Initially, Johanna, who is trying to find her way in a world that doesn’t allow her rights, views colonialism as beneficial in order to further her career. But the narrative shows the many ways why such a thing is not only wrong but morally repugnant, and teaches us that white women especially should be aware of the importance of intersectionality. Johanna, and Felicity, learn that their experiences as women — as white, European women — are not shared by every woman in the world. Even though Sim is female, as a Muslim woman she navigates the world very differently from Felicity and Johanna. Ultimately, The Lady’s Guide shows that, while it is important for young women to make a place and a name for themselves in a world dominated by men, it should not be at the expense of people of colour.
Her dark eyes meet mine and I look between her and Johanna. In the company of women like this—sharp-edged as raw diamonds but with soft hands and hearts, not strong in spite of anything but powerful because of everything—I feel invincible. Every chink and rut and battering wind has made us tough and brave and impossible to strike down. We are made of mountains—or perhaps temples, with foundations that could outlast time itself.
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy is such a wild ride of a novel. Starting it, I didn’t much know where it would go, but as the story developed, I was beaming the whole way through. In between the growing friendship between the girls, the cameos from Monty and Percy, and the fierce intersectional feminist message, I was completely in my element. Read this book when it comes out! You won’t regret it!
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Check out these amazing reviews of the novel by even more amazing reviewers:
Em @ Runaway with Dream Thieves’ review
Brianna @ Brianna the Bookworm’s review
Malanie @ Malanie Loves Fiction’s review
Caidyn @ BW Review’s review
Did you know …
If you preorder the The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy before October 2, you’ll receive a free e-copy of The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky, a novella set between The Gentleman’s Guide and The Lady’s Guide about Monty and Percy! Click here to find out more!