If there is one thing I have enjoyed in Mackenzi Lee’s pair of YA books it has been the breezy humour that accompanies wild and improbable adventure. I am happy to report that the prescription remains substantially intact though with a caveat that may well be mine alone. An example of what I enjoy along with the plot lines that can be quite wild and wacky (dragon skin scales that could alter the direction of medicine) can be found in an incident late in this book when Monty (hero along with his boyf Percy in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’ and a somewhat late entry in this offering) is mistakenly kicked in the crotch by his heroine sister Felicity’s pal Johanna.
‘Monty groans in affirmation, straightening slowly as if he were thawing out. He places his hands carefully over his most vulnerable areas, then says, “Miss Hoffman”. His voice is nearly as high as hers. “My complements to your cobbler. What are those shoes made of and from where exactly was it mined?”
Ouch! There is a lot of putting men in their place throughout this novel as the women (girls?) not only take the central roles in the story line but spend quite a lot of time ruminating over their 18th C places in society. Given the existence (and increasing awareness) of the somewhat later Ann Lister diaries, this is quite appropriate and should strike home (without being overly polemic) for many YA and adult readers. My only small gripe is that it all seemed to take up rather a lot of space early in the tale as the author was also spending energy on establishing Felicity’s life after the earlier adventure in which her intellect and insight were regularly hinted and she now finds denied. This is a book (like its predecessor) of 440+ pages which I (perhaps mistakenly) would have thought a bit long for a YA audience. I feel it is more so in this case than the earlier. There are times when detail might be of interest but some could have been sacrificed in the interests of a snappier read.
The key is the continuing desire of Felicity to build on her constant reading of medical texts to obtain a place in a formal medical teaching facility. She is going to have a hard time with that and her struggle and resolution is the bare bones of the story. “Every time I blink or breathe or twitch or stretch, every time I feel pain or awake or alive, I want to know why” – “Half my heart is this hunger.”
The piratical theme continues and slowly blossoms at the conclusion in the person of Sim the darkly mysterious Algerian piratical woman who is woven intricately into the story. Johanna Hoffman is a childhood friend of Felicity who has grown apart from her over Johanna’s apparently more conventional female behaviours and fondness for dress (especially). She also has a strong scientific interest in the natural world perhaps inherited from her adventurer-scientist mother. There is a deal of discussion between Felicity and Johanna about how their lives seem to be developing and what they truly want for themselves.
The hunt for dragon scales also introduces considerations of health care, medication and its sourcing and control and prices. It is intriguing that Lee manages to weave these du jour health interests into an antique tale with a literally fabulous conclusion.
I don’t wish to telegraph much of the meandering but highly enjoyable plot which can be savoured along the way and the rushing conclusion is very much in Mackenzi Lee style. I accept the fruit of the discussions and decision-making along the way but I reserve my conclusion that it all needed a bit more editing. I shall enjoy hearing from the female members of my group in this respect and will accept a cuffing of the ears but hopefully not the treatment mentioned above doled out by Miss Hoffman.
Perhaps there will be further adventures ahead for the fearless four – or is that now five?
(BCC library has 10 copies)