Rummanah Aasi
I've heard about Y.S. Lee's Agency series for quite some time. I've been meaning to pick it up since it is about a Victorian mystery series but never got around to it. After reading several glowing reviews from bloggers, I thought to give the series a chance and I'm so glad I did. I enjoyed every minute of it! There are currently three books (the third book released today!) in the series and I really hope Ms. Lee doesn't stop there.

Description: Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan and thief Mary Quinn is offered a place at Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls where she is trained to be part of an all-female investigative unit called The Agency. At age 17, she is given her first case as she infiltrates a rich merchant's home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. Being an agent isn't as easy as Mary thought as she meets unsuspecting friends and foes as well as a family secret.

Review: A Spy in the House grabbed my attention right away. As the book opens, Mary, a scrappy 12-year-old orphan and accomplished thief in Victorian London, is saved at her 11th hour from the gallows by a stranger and taken to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, an institution dedicated to turning out strong, independent, educated young women. Due to her rough upbringing she is reluctant at first, but then accepts the challenge and eventually becomes a teacher herself. At 17, she discovers the school is actually a covert group of female spies known as The Agency and is recruited by the mistresses of the school who believes Mary's street smarts make her a great candidate. After her initial shock has worn off, she is given her first assignment which involves posing as a lady's companion to the daughter of a man suspected of fraud and smuggling. She carries out her investigation at night and during stolen moments, but soon finds that she is not the only one on the case.
  While there was no such thing as an Agency in Victorian England, which the author fully admits, I found loved her idea of subverting the passive, submissive, and quiet Victorian woman stereotype. The women virtually go undetected, which makes them blend easily into the background and a great choice for spies. Lee's Victorian England is vibrant and rich in detail from the attention to clothes, dialect and the seedy underbelly of the poor. Historical details are woven seamlessly into the plot, and descriptive writing allows readers to be part of each scene. The book's slow pace, melodrama, and the mystery also reflects on the time period.
  As a heroine, I loved Mary Quinn. Her years as an orphan and pick-pocketer piques our interest in her personal story. Intelligent, feisty, determined, yet somewhat stubborn and impulsive, Mary has several layers to her personality that we can all relate to. Her complexity grows as we learn about her ethnic background, which I hope gets explored more as the series continues. I admire Mary for not wallowing about her dark past and actually use the skills of observation and street smarts while she is on the case. Unlike Nancy Drew, who always seems to make the right choices while sleuthing, Mary is over her head. She continuously makes mistakes but her quick thinking for the most part helps her out except when it comes to James Easton.
  James Easton is the debonair gentleman who is also interested in Mary's case. Unlike Mary, James reasons are more personal and directly related to the mystery as his brother captivated by Mr. Thorold's daughter and hopes to marry her. James is utterly charming, cocky, and continues fails to figure out Mary. Though James and Mary meet coincidentally, there is no doubt that they both strike up curiosity in one another. Watching these two banter and get flustered by one another is the spotlight for the book. There is definite romantic tension which crackles between them and makes us wait in anticipation to see if this 'relationship' progresses.
  Though the mystery is solved by the end of the book, we are still left with many questions that make us want to pick up the second book (which I have and it's even better than this one) right away. Class differences, love gone awry, racial discrimination, London's growing pains in the 1850s, and the status of women in society are all addressed. Lee knows her Victorian London and it shows. I would definitely recommend to people who enjoy historical fiction and cozy mysteries with a strong female heroine that are not too violent and graphic.

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: The book is relatively clean, however, there are mentions of opium dens and mentions of the philandering Mr. Thorold. Recommended for strong Grades 6 readers and up.

If you like this book try: The Body at the Tower (Agency #2), Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman, Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer
7 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    "I loved her idea of subverting the passive, submissive, and quiet Victorian woman stereotype."

    I think I would love that too Rummanah! I like the idea of women spies in the Victorian era, how cool. I've heard nothing but good things about this series, it's another one I really want to make time for. Mary sounds like my kind of girl!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Seriously!! Ive had this on my TBR pile FOREVER...Im not sure what the hold up is....;D Ill have to move this up for sure....

    Lovely review Rummanah!!

  3. I've always had an odd fascination with opium dens.

    Have you ever read Fingersmith? From the way you've described this book, it seems like it's the YA version of that book. LOL

  4. This does sound great. I also like the idea of subverting the model of a Victorian woman. There's so much you can do with this time period.

  5. I actually haven't seen many reviews for this one around, Rummanah, so thanks for letting me know a little more about it. I love stories involving thieves and spies, and I really like that Lee's historical details are accurate and woven seamlessly into the plot.

  6. I really need to to back and read this one. I like that it starts with Mary as a twelve year old. Her history is mentioned in Book 3. Sounds like she and James have a long history together, I need to clue into to this tension and would totally enrich book three...the sparks fly in that one!

  7. Prangon Says:

    This is one of my favorite series. I am keen to see what you think of the next two books.

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