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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review: A Spy in the House

The Agency 1: A Spy in the House
Title: A Spy in the House
Author: Y.S. Lee
Page Count: 352 pages
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: historical fiction, young adult, mystery
Copy for review compliments of the public library

50 words or less: Mary Quinn was rescued from the gallows and given the opportunity of a lifetime; the chance for a safe home, an education, and a shot at a fulfilling career, all things which were not guaranteed to girls with no prospects in Victorian England.  Her job is working for The Agency, which is unusual.  Unusual, indeed.

I've heard a lot of folks claim to not like historical fiction.  Many times they think the story is either bogged down in historical facts and details (which certainly happens sometimes) or, especially in the case of young adult historical fiction, they feel the facts are distorted to suit the story- either the yucky stuff is glossed over/left out all together or everything is so convoluted that a sense of authenticity is lost.  To those people, I would issue the following challenge: read A Spy in the House.  It's the perfect blend of historical detail, intriguing mystery, and enough artistic license to make everything flow together nicely.

Mary Quinn is smart, resourceful, cunning, and practical.  Unfortunately, she's also a convicted thief, which means her options as she heads towards the gallows are precisely nill.  When she's sprung from the clink, so to speak, by a representative of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls under the pretense of being given a second chance and a new lease on life, she knows better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.  She has the opportunity to get an education and learn vocational skills that will enable her to pursue an honorable life with her reputation intact.

That might have been the end of the story, except Mary isn't satisfied with being a governess or a paid companion; she wants to do something more...involved.  Just like that, she's offered a position with The Agency, an all female agency of investigators who do the kinds of jobs that necessitate discretion on their part and indiscretion on the part of others; people say all kinds of things in front of servants and governesses, after all.  Mary's task is straightforward enough; pose as a companion to a snotty young debutante and listen for any indications that her trader father might be up to no good.

Suffice it to say, there's a lot more to it than that, and we get a healthy history lesson while we're trying to unravel the mystery.  We learn a lot about Mary and her parentage, as well as the status and situation of women of various social and economic means at the time as well.  The author is very forthcoming in saying that this sort of Agency is absolutely a work of fiction because the social dictates at the time wouldn't have allowed it; regardless, the different female characters achieved varying levels of autonomy within the means available to them, with varying levels of success. 

This is the first book in what promises to be an entertaining, educational series, and I'm definitely excited to read book two in the series, The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower, in the near future.  Do yourself a favor and check this book out!

Overall Grade: A


Kristen said...

I just finished book two in this series and really enjoyed both of the novels. I agree with you that it has a nice blend of history, mystery, and artistic writing to make it really a book you can't put down. I can't wait for more of Mary in what I hope will be a fairly long series. If you liked this you may want to check out the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer, which is about the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes.

Lydia said...

Oh! I've been seeing this cover and I WANT to read it! Fantastic review and it is making me wanting to read it even more... I think I may have to do some bumping on my TBR list.

Becky said...

The book sounds very interesting! I will have to check it out!

Great Review! New follower here!

Emily a.k.a WilowRaven : ) said...

Ooooo - I have to get this book! I received a copy of Book 2 at BEA this year but have yet to buy Book 1 - now I want it!! :)
Thanks for the great review. I'm usually not a big fan of historical fiction but this one looks like it would suit me well

Heather said...

This sounds just like my cup of tea! I love historical fiction,and I love mysteries, and I love stories about strong women and girls, and this looks like all of the above! Great, review, BTW.

Buried in Books said...

I have been wondering about this series because I actually do love historical fiction and mystery. I haven't read any of the Protectorate books yet, but I might start with this series. You give a good review without giving anything away. I wondered how being a governess would help with being a spy, but you explained that simply. Not very imaginative today. Thanks for your review, I will definitely read this one.


Nicola said...

Oh, I just loved this book too. I got the 2nd one in the mail this week! Can't wait to read it.

Allison said...

I just read this, and fell in love with it! Can't wait to get the next one :)

Jo said...

I hadn't seen this book, but your review actually makes me want to look for it at the library! :)

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I have seen this one around and have heard good things look forward to reading it too.

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