The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2) by Y.S. Lee 2010 (ARC)
*Note: From the IQ and below there are minor spoilers. Not spoilers of the plot of the 2nd book, but spoilers if you haven't read the first book in the series. You've been warned ;)
IQ "People were so damned nosy, so obsessively intent on categorizing and classifying. She would forever be plagued by that question or variations thereon, and there would never be a satisfactory way to answer. If she was untruthful, it was a denial of her blood. If she met the question directly, she became an object of pity or a lesser species; a mongrel." Mary pg.183-184
Mary Quinn has recently completed her first mission for the Agency and she's eager to take on more cases. Unfortunately, her next assignment hits a little too close to home. Mary will have to go undercover as twelve year old boy (this works because she's small) and become an apprentice builder. Mark (Mary's new name) must face constant hunger along with painful childhood memories from when Mary dressed as a boy to protect herself. The mystery is set at the site of the clock tower for the Houses of Parliament. A murder occurred there and Mary needs to find the murderer. Not only is Mary battling painful memories, she has to stifle the need to want to help everyone and sort out her feelings for James.
I don't read that many trilogies so I'm not sure how this second book compares to other second books in trilogies. I do think it was done very well. I would imagine that the second book in a trilogy is used mostly to set-up the third book and just give lots of information. Y.S. Lee manages to successfully avoid infodumps and tedious moments. The best part of this book is learning more about Mary's heritage. We didn't learn as much as I would have liked, but we learn a lot more. Mary is forced to confront her heritage issues when she meets Winnie, a maid who shares her heritage. Mary's ultimate decision concerning her cultural background, pained me and I'm eagerly awaiting the third book in the hopes that she will change her mind. I complain about still not knowing everything about Mary's background, but that's what keeps me reading (well ok, the witty banter and mystery element help a lot). The author slowly allows readers into Mary's personal life. We know a lot more about Mary than we did in the first book, but like James, we are still left in the dark concerning much of her past. Besides learning about Mary's cultural background, we also see her struggle with once again being dressed as a boy and living in a dangerous neighborhood. Mary does not have many happy childhood memories and reading about the battle occurring within herself to "get over" her fear is fascinating. She can't just get over it, it's going to take some time and confrontation.
My only other small complaint was that I thought the mystery was a little easier to solve. I guessed who the murder was as soon as the reader meets the character, but there were twists to the plot, that I couldn't figure out. Also finding out the motives behind murder make the story even more chilling and will keep readers flipping the pages. Something else that makes this story great is that you don't need to be an engineer, architect, construction worker or history lover to understand the workings of the building site. I was afraid that I would be confused by all the terminology (brick laying, etc.), but every detail is described with great clarity. The author doesn't let the smallest detail escape her and neither does Mary (this makes her a lot of fun to read about). Mary is so amazing. She is headstrong, a quick thinker and immerses herself completely in a role. The qualities she has that I envy the most are her wit and grace under pressure. She gets in some awkward and dangerous situations but she never succumbs to fear or acts "unladylike" (proper Victorians may disagree with that last bit). In addition to learning more about Mary we see a more vulnerable side of James. There is more chemistry and tension between them and I want MORE (please). The ending made me want to shout at both of them.
Now that I think about it, there is no one thing that makes this book better than the other. It's a combination of things. I liked both books in the series, but I think the second book is better than the first and that's saying a lot (the bar was already set pretty high). The Body at the Tower is a mesmerizing read that will allow you to further make the acquittance of one of the most remarkable heroines, Mary Quinn. As you learn more about Mary and her past, you will adore her all the more (you will also demand more James time) and the mystery element keeps you on the edge of your seat. Conversations between Mary and James are wonderful to eavesdrop on, although some may make you cringe.The setting of Victorian London is absolutely perfect for Mary and this series is going to win over quite a few Victorian haters and reluctant students of history. There is no excess of useless information in this story, every detail plays some part in the story and helps you better understand the time period of 1851. If I had to live in Victorian England, I would want to be a member of the Agency (in fact can we have a whole book about the history of this female spy organization?).
Disclosure: Received for review from publisher as part of a Traveling to Teens blog tour. Thank you so much Candlewick!
PS Check back shortly (within the hour) for a guest post from the author about Notorious Victorians (hint: She is awesome in her reluctance).