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Sugar House Journal

Marginalized characters brought to life at bookshop reading

Jul 27, 2017 13h05 ● By Kayla Lien

“The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue.” (Kayla Lien/City Journals)

The usually calm, quiet atmosphere of the charming King’s English Bookshop was abuzz with excitement on the evening of June 30. Novelist Mackenzi Lee was on hand to read from her latest novel, “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.” Lee’s previous book was “This Monstrous Thing.” 

Lee is a quirky character, toting around a typewriter-buttoned handbag and wearing tortoiseshell sunglasses. A history major in college, she said, “I write specifically historical fiction because I really love history, and because when I was a kid, most of what I read was historical fiction, and also, like, ‘Star Wars’ novelizations.”

However, “The Gentleman’s Guide” is unlike most historical fiction. Set in 18th-century Europe, it focuses on a queer main character named Monty on a Grand Tour with his best friend, Percy. He hopes the trip will evolve into something more. As is customary for every novel, these two manage to get caught in a dangerous manhunt — Monty’s younger sister tagging along, throwing their original ideas of a posh “last hedonistic hurrah” out the window. A quick summary would be: “Big gay road trip,” as Lee herself put it.

LGBTQ+ people are often forgotten in time, so Mackenzi wanted to, “dispel this myth that the only place for queer people in history is sort of as the tragic BBC subplot on a period drama.” Lee explained that she, too, bought into the “idea that marginalized people were so busy being marginalized they couldn’t have any sort of identity or impact outside of that.” She hopes that this novel will show to queer teenagers that, “you existed and there is a place for you in history.”

Her hope was fulfilled and there was no absence of young adults and adults, for that matter, there to listen to her talk about and read from “The Gentleman’s Guide.” By 7 p.m., almost every seat in the open-air amphitheater behind the bookshop was filled, many people were clasping the new novel in their hands, sharing smiles and handshakes, waiting for the event to begin. 

Mackenzi Lee and her friend and fellow author sat in front of the crowd, and her friend asked her questions about both herself and the novel. After that, audience members questioned Lee on anything and everything. She read from the book in a fake, but delightful British accent, causing laughter in the audience.

Once the question and answer session was over, audience members waited to have their novels signed. 

The King’s English is known for hosting events such as this on a regular schedule. Claire Margetts, event coordinator of the bookshop, said that they love to promote books and authors. “We very much like the new YA scene,” she said.  

Lee’s companion novel, “The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy,” coming out next year is sure to bring more publicity to the marginalized characters of society and history.