Saturday, August 13, 2011

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.  

Synopsis courtesy of 

My Review

4 Stars 

The Agency: A Spy in the House is the first novel in a new YA historical mystery series set during the Victorian era.   At the start of the novel the reader is introduced to Mary Quinn, a rough young woman from London who is set to hang for stealing.  Despite her death sentence, Mary is not fated to die on the gallows as she rescued by a woman from Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, a seemingly innocuous school for young ladies.   However, Miss Scrimshaw's Academy is actually a cover for an all-female spy agency.   When Mary completes her formal education and indicates an interest in doing more with her life, she is given the opportunity to become one of The Agency's operatives.   Mary accepts and is given her first assignment, that of a lady's companion in the home of a merchant whose cargo ships go missing, and thus the foundations for the first novel-and the series-are laid. 

The mystery itself is straight forward, as Mary attempts to solve things in a perfectly believable manner, making use of no over the top or implausible antics in her quest to gather information.  I feel Lee does a good job keeping the reader guessing as to the eventual solution to the mystery and, despite clues, I was somewhat surprised by it's resolution.  In addition to the main mystery, Lee also gives Mary herself a mysterious background.  This background slowly comes to light over the course of the story, although it is apparent at the outset what it will be and, as a result, when it is revealed it doesn't come as a surprise.  

Lee does a good job with the development of her main characters, especially Mary, who comes across as an intelligent and industrious young woman.   I did, however,  feel the depiction of some of the lesser characters to be a little inconsistent, but this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel.   The story moves quickly and easily and, despite being geared for a YA audience, it isn't simplistic.  

Overall, I would recommend this novel to fans of historical mysteries and think it is a welcome addition to the YA genre, which, these days, seems to be dominated by paranormal novels.

This book comes from my own personal collection.