Desert Isle Keeper
The Nobleman's Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks
After Mackenzi Lee’s Tulip Fever was cancelled in 2019 for multiple reasons, the author has returned to the familiar stomping ground of her Montague Siblings series. This third (and allegedly final) book in that triad focuses on the youngest brother, Adrian. For those worried that the book would be unsatisfactory after the author took a rather long break from the series, they need not worry – Adrian is as memorable as his siblings, and as worth rooting for. But those with spiraling thought processes and those who suffer from anxiety will likely struggle with the book, as I did.
Nineteen years have passed since the conclusion of The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, Felicity’s book, and then-infant Adrian has now reached his majority. He has been raised far from the scandals which enveloped his adventuresome older twin siblings, and he seems to have it all – he’s rich thanks to being named his father’s sole heir, he’s young, he’s a budding political writer who works in secret with underground broadsheets writing in support of labor movements, he is engaged, and his friends love him. But Adrian labors under the weight of anxiety – and is often given to panic attacks as he tries to operate under the tonnage of his father’s expectations. He also suffers from OCD. His anxiety is exacerbated by the sudden death of his beloved mother, whom he was extremely close to. He is shocked to learn of the existence of his siblings thanks to a piece of a spyglass handed down from his mother. It is missing several pieces which keep it from being operational, and in trying to make it whole once more he encounters a now thirtysomething Monty.
Monty has been living in London with his beloved Percy for the past decade or so, and has established a shipping company which, in part, transports dangerous magical artifacts. Monty is still bitter about his father’s behavior toward him, and is Adrian flummoxed by this new family he did not know he had, but they endeavor to get along and try to solve the mystery behind their mother’s death. It’s a death which may have been a murder, or may have been related to her fascination with magical artifacts. They need the help of Felicity – who had happily settled far from England in the Azores during her own book – to fully solve the mystery and the two men team up to find their sister.
The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks is a satisfying topper to the adventures of the Montague family. Reading this third full-length instalment is to take a deep dive into Adrian’s psyche and come out feeling a trifle bit panicked yourself. I suffer from agoraphobia and generalized anxiety, both of which I generally successfully control with therapy and mental exercises – to visit Adrian’s mind is to remember what it felt like to have a thousand panicked thoughts flying around in my mind like bats.
But this is an accurate representation, and I deeply liked Adrian, who, unlike his siblings, is no voyager, but instead someone who’s quieter and more introspective; gentler, with a much softer constitution. While he believes he should be tougher and heartier as his father wishes he were, his siblings immediately note that they like him just as he is. He must learn to accept who he is at heart, and his journey here is much more about that than anything else.
Monty, Adrian and Felicity all come together to form a proper sibling bond here, and Monty has shaped up into being quite the semi-respectable adult and tries his damndest to be a good big brother to Adrian. Felicity gets less play in the book but is still a major presence with her own life, and the incomplete threads dangling from Lady’s Guide are solved. Characters from the two previous books pop up and are used fairly well, like Sim and Joanna from Felicity’s book.
Romance-wise, Adrian is happily spoken for. He’s in love with his fiancée, a lovely and intelligent woman named Louisa (nicknamed Lou) who doesn’t get enough page-time in the book, yet remains a convincing north star for Adrian to return to. I did wish that she were actually adventuring alongside her fiancé and his siblings during the book, but her understanding when it comes to his panic and how she helps him with it in an era where (as the book notes) panic and OCD such as his were a one-way ticket to bedlam is lovely to see. Monty and Percy are still going great gangbusters, though Monty still has not surrendered to domesticity, and aspec-leaning Felicity continues to be devoted to her friends and medicine. There is also at least one wedding in the book for one of our principal characters, which will delight those who have been following the series from the start.
The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks didn’t floor me quite as thoroughly as Lady’s Guide, still what I consider to be the peak of the franchise, but it’s a wonderful and enrapturing sequel none the less, and comes with a high recommendation.