Adrian Montague appears to have it all. He’s the sole heir to his father’s estate; he is soon to be inducted into the House of Lords; and he is engaged to the love of his life, Louisa Davies. His future is bright, his fortune is secure, his happiness seems absolute. Underneath it all, Adrian is drowning. Drowning, trying to function like how everybody else does. All his peers appear to have no trouble being themselves and navigating life around them while Adrian is out there unable to have even a single conversation without worrying about everything he says being misunderstood and obsessively going over every single word he uttered for weeks afterward.
“I have no right to feel this underwater. Nothing bad has ever happened to me. I am a river without a source. Pain without a wound.”
Yeah, that one hit a bit too close to home. In modern terms, Adrian has a generalised anxiety disorder with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. The author, Mackenzi Lee, drew from her own experiences with these illnesses, and it is all too real when you see the world through Adrian’s eyes.
Adrian’s life is further complicated by the appearance of a broken spyglass that belonged to his late mother. It opens up a whole other world to Adrian, one with siblings he never knew existed and a daunting quest he finds himself compelled to undertake. Through it all, he wants nothing more than to go back home, get into bed under the covers, and be swallowed up until he doesn’t take up any space in the world. The more the spyglass draws him out into the world in search of a ghost ship that holds the answers, the more attractive the idea is to Adrian that all that is wrong with him and his mind is solely the spyglass’ fault and if only he gets to the end of the adventure, he will finally be free.
Adrian travels all over from safe, well safe-ish, London to Rabat to the Azores to Porto to Amsterdam and finally to Iceland in his pursuit for answers. Did my mother suffer the same illness I do? How did she really die? Why was she obsessed with this spyglass? Who are my siblings? Why did no one ever tell me about them? Do they hate me?
Will I reach the same end my mother did?
There’s an entire chapter where Adrian obsesses over some water he drinks because of five words his sister speaks on seeing him by the pump. “Did you drink that water?” She doesn’t say it’s bad or that it’s poisonous. She continues by saying it’s fine and that she has fresher water inside. But the words repeat themselves over and over in Adrian’s head until it consumes him, until he resorts to placing leeches on his arms to suck out the poison that his mind is now convinced was present in the water. He does end up sick, like he was worried he would. Not because of the water though, no. He faints from blood loss due to the leeches.
It’s not all bad, I promise. The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks has pirates and dark secrets and rebellion and fun and flirtations and old friends and all those things that make a really good adventure. But it is also very, very real in a way that makes you hurt for Adrian. He does reach a place of acceptance in the end, and it is no doubt the hardest thing in the world to accept yourself as you are.
This book is actually the third in the Montague Siblings series. While Adrian has no idea his siblings even existed, we know (and love) them from the first two books. Monty and Felicity’s stories are similarly absolutely fantastic adventures. Read Book One, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, for the adventures of the bisexual mess that is Monty who is in love with his best friend Percy and who ends up putting him and his sister Felicity in harm’s way when he steals a valuable object from a duke out of pettiness when drunk. That was a mouthful of a sentence, but I swear there is no other way to describe it. Book Two, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, is about Felicity’s quest to carve a space for herself and her ambitions to become a doctor in a male-dominated world that rails against her and looks down on her and all the other women like her.
I recommend reading the series in order to truly understand and appreciate the gravity of the tensions in Book Three. Plus, the audiobook of The Gentleman’s Guide is narrated by Christian Coulson who played Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and I’m told his voice is really good.