Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review of A Spy in the House

A Spy in the House: The Agency #1 by Y.S. Lee
Pages: 352
Genre: YA Mystery/Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: March 9, 2010
ARC received through SLJ's Webinar
My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "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."

Mary is an orphan who made her living on the streets of Victorian London as a thief.  Ultimately, she got caught and was going to be sent to the gallows; however, someone rescued her and brought her to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy.  As the years go by, she learns that this Academy is actually a front for The Agency, an all female group of highly trained investigators.  Upon Mary's seventeenth birthday, she gets her first assignment, which is to be a spy at the Thorold's house, because they suspect Mr. Thorold's business is engaging in illegal activities.  Mary spies on their house by becoming a companion to the spoiled and insufferable daughter of Mr. Thorold, Angelica.  As Mary continues her investigation, she runs into (quite literally) a handsome gentleman, James Easton, who seems to be spying on the Thorolds as well.  Mary wonders what on earth James, a well-off bachelor, would be searching for in the Thorold's household and whether she can trust him.  She is feeling the pressure, because time is running out and she needs to delve deeper in her investigation.  Y.S. Lee's debut novel, A Spy in the House is a brilliant first installment to The Agency series.  

First of all, everyone knows I love historical fiction.  When you combine historical fiction with a good mystery, I love it even more; so, this book, for me, was outstanding!  The setting is London in the 1850's, which is one of my favorite time periods.  I felt like the city of London was a character in itself!  Between the Thames and the summer of "The Great Stink," the social restrictions of Victorian England, as well as the captivating mystery surrounding the Thorolds, it made for an enthralling novel.  Lee expertly weaves this tale as the mystery had me guessing up until the last second.  It made me remember how much I truly enjoy a good mystery.

Onto the characters- simply stated: I loved them.  Mary is a strong female character that is witty, bright, and resourceful.  Given her mysterious past, I found myself rooting her on as the underdog.  But she doesn't want sympathy, she's a tough girl!  Essentially, Mary Quinn is James Bond in a corset.  I loved her!  Plus, her interactions with James were amusing.  I loved their witty banter and dialogue.   Next, the character of Angelica was deliciously annoying. She's the kind of character that I love to hate, but towards the end of the novel, thankfully, she does start coming around.  Also, the character of Mrs. Thorold was very entertaining as she is someone who is always feeling "under the weather" and can't exert herself too much unless it's to go to her one million doctor appointments.  She was straight out of a Jane Austen novel.  But keep in mind, not everyone in this novel is who you think they are, including Mary herself.  

Lastly, I love the fact that I can recommend this novel without hesitation to my students.  It's always nice to be able to share with them a novel that I read over the summer that is 100% appropriate.  With that said, I can't wait to pick up The Body at the Tower, which is the next book in the series and it came out just a few days ago.  Surprisingly, I hear it is even better than A Spy in the House.  I can't wait to see what Y.S. Lee has up her sleeve next!


  1. Ooo I've had this one waiting for me. You make me want to drop everything and pick it up. Great review.

  2. I've been wanting to read this one since forever. I don't know why I haven't gotten it yet. I love historical fiction and then the mystery just makes me want to read it even more. I'll definitely have to get this one next. Fantastic review!

  3. Would love to win this one, in the mood for something set in a different time and with a mystery too!


  4. I loved this book. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I can't wait to read The Body at the Tower.

    I liked your comment about Mary being "James Bond in a corset". I don't think he could have completed any missions while wearing one :)

    Great review!

  5. I've been on the fence about this one, but you may have won me over with the line "Essentially, Mary Quinn is James Bond in a corset." Sounds like my kind of girl. Plus, I love a good mystery, and stopping by your blog always makes me feel extra friendly towards historical novels. (:


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