Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Review: The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Introducing an exciting new series! Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past. (From Goodreads)

In A Spy in the House, Lee tells a story filled with mystery, intrigue, and romance. Mary, a girl who was saved from a death sentence, has been educated at Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. At the school she's given the education of a wealthy girl, and is encouraged to work in a field she enjoys. The idea of a school that educated girls regardless of their social class, or connections, was an aspect I enjoyed. Not only that, but the school existed to give the women some independence. In a time when the role of women was primarily in the home, it was refreshing to read about a group of women who acknowledged that they deserved more options than being a wife/mistress/governess. It also made me appreciate the educational opportunities that I've been given.

The writing was another big part of why I enjoyed this book. In my opinion, a good mystery needs an interesting setting, strong characters, and should make you question the motives of those characters. A Spy in the House contained all of these characteristics, and more. The description of Victorian London, made me feel as though I was there, stuck in warm weather made worse by the smell of the polluted Thames. Throughout the book, I also questioned the motives of each character. Each time a new piece of information was discovered by Mary, I attempted to figure out how the story would end. Of course, I was completely wrong.

I really enjoyed reading about Mary. In the early chapters of the book, the reader finds out why Mary was sentenced to death by hanging. We also see how Mary's education has helped her to grow, and become stronger, and more sure of herself. I particularly liked that she was looking for a work that she found fulfilling. She had attempted many of the jobs that were acceptable for women, but she wanted something more from her work. It takes a lot of courage to go from a job that you know, to something that's completely foreign. Mary was also kind to her young maid, Cass. This was a characteristic that was uncommon in the wealthy women in the book. Cass reminded me a lot of Mary at the start of the book. Cass was a bit unsure of herself, and given the right opportunities, had the potential to be very clever, much like Mary had been.

There were a few times when I thought that the plot could have moved a bit faster, but aside from that I really enjoyed this book. It's another great 2010 debut, and I look forward to the sequel, The Body at the Tower, which is being released this August.

A Spy in the House (The Agency 1)
By Y.S. Lee
Published by Candlewick
335 Pages
Rating: B+

4 comments:

Jan von Harz said...

Great review. Like you I love a good mystery and always try to figure out the clues too (and am usually wrong, but not always). I have been meaning to read this books and will have to get it soon.

Patty said...

Great review! I want to read this one so badly!

Sherry said...

You are invited to add a link to your review to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon
( http://www.semicolonblog.com ). The Saturday Review happens every week, and it's a great place to find links to other bloggers' reviews.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great review. I've been itching to start this series.

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