Saturday, March 6, 2010

Traveling To Teens: The Agency: A Spy in the House

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee, Book 1 Candlewick ARC

Release Date: March 9, 2010

Rating: 4.5/5

IQ "It's terrifying to be on the verge of finally getting what you want." Angela pg. 281

I really like the above quote because I've definitely felt at times that I really want something, but at the same time I grow anxious when I come closer to getting it. Why is that? Fear of the unknown? Fear that we don't deserve to get what we want? Hmm, it's a good question and one that faces women today and in Victorian England.

The Agency tells the story of orphan Mary Quinn who is saved from the gallows by a woman who runs a boarding school for girls. There the girls are educated in school matters, manners and in some cases, espionage. Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls is home to the Agency, a group of female spies with a good reputation for results and solid work. Mary becomes a part of The Agency and becomes a female companion in the household of the Thorolds (to Angela Thorold, Mr. Thorold's daughter). Mr. Thorold is suspected of smuggling artifacts from India as well as financial crimes. It quickly becomes clear that the case is not so straightforward, people are hiding things and it's HOT (the story is set in London during the Big Stink in the summer of 1858). I will never look at Victorians the same way!

What a wonderful novel. The setting, the characters, the plot, everything is quite clever and the author is constantly throwing curveballs at you, some expected, some not. I would try and guess whodunit but everyone becomes a suspect at some point. The setting of London, England will have you looking at Victorian England through a completely different perspective, you will read about people who are often ignored in history, like the Lascars (Asian sailors). The book does not gloss over the troubled times of Victorian England, it's honest and straightforward about issues (like child labor, the lives of sailors, the plight of women, etc.). I'd never heard of the Big Stink either (when London was hit by a searing heat wave for days) so that was interesting to read about.

My only complaint with the novel was that at times I forgot the plot because there was so much going on. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because the author has such interesting characters with mysterious story lines, but I had to flip back to the beginning of the story to read what the originally plot was. The mystery was still excellent, the ending is unexpected (at least, you won't guess who the villain is until more than halfway through the book, it's not who you start off thinking it will be) and I admire the author's writing and juggling of all the character's stories.

Mary is a great heroine. She's fearless, determined, smart, a fighter AND she's still a proper Victorian lady (most of the time *ahem wardrobes*) James is another good character. He and Mary have great chemistry and are constantly engaged in witty banter that will make the reader smile. However, it's only a dash of romance and doesn't take away from the story, it only adds to it. Even the minor characters are good, none of them fell flat from Alfred Quigley to Angela Thorold. Unlike in some other books I've read, I still remember the minor characters and their story.

The Agency is a fast-paced captivating read set in the enthralling time of Victorian England. Mary Quinn is an heroine you will be cheering for and who always uses her wits. She is better than Sherlock Holmes because she does all that he does in a skirt :) I ended the book immensely sad because I did not want to leave London just yet and the ending left me wanting more. I can't wait for Book 2!

Disclosure: Received from publisher for Traveling to Teens Tour. Thanks Candlewick!

PS Did my review leave you wanting to read this book (hopefully!)? Well you have the chance to win it for free! Visit the author's website and answer the question "If I Were A Spy..." The answers are quite funny :D

Also read the guest post the author did here at Reading in Color on how Victorian England was not lily-white (learn about Lascars, you totally want to know who they are!)


  1. Wow, it sounds like Lee did a good job in realizing Victorian England. I'm soooooooo excited for this book. *looks mournfully at mailbox* Pleaseeeeeeeee arrive nowwwwwwwwwwwwww. ;_;

  2. Great review! I am really interested in reading this book. I had read a brief blurb about it but your review makes me want to read it more!

  3. You have TOTALLY sold me on this book. :)

    Great review, thanks!

  4. Ahaha I paused at the same quote too. I love how A's character developed throughout the story. Fantastic review and I'm so glad you liked it!

  5. 2ah yuan-I'm no historian but I would say so. I felt completely immesered in England. I'm presuming that you've already ordered it?

    @Christina-Yes! That's what I like to here :) Do check it out. Pre order or enter the contest.

    @kaz-Thank you and I'm so glad to hear it =)

    @Steph-Yeah that quote stood out to me, I completely agree angela's growth as a character was a lot of fun to read about it. And I got so sad about Alfred! I didn't see the Michael thing coming either. Thank you for organizing this tour :D

  6. I've been eying this book ever since I first heard about it in Shelf Awareness. It sounds FABULOUS to me! I love that an Asian Canadian is writing about a spy agency in Victorian London! She seems exactly my sort of girl :-)

    Great review!

  7. Great review, I loved this book too (and pre-ordered the second part!) Way to go Ms Lee!

  8. So I finally read this and I had so much fun reading it. I'm a Y S Lee convert now :) Sad face for Quigley though, in my mind I kind of want him and Cass to meet years and years later and fall in love :(


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