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The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Published by Candlewick Press

Pages: 352

Ages: Young Adult

Publishers Summary: 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.
Introducing an exciting new series! Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

Headstrong and determined to see her death through to the very end, Mary Quinn is sentenced to death after a string of robberies out of necessity due to a life of poverty and the loss of both her parents. It’s only when a lone stranger whisks her away to a seemingly pretentious school for girls, only to discover quickly that it’s not pretentious at all but quite the contrary. What Mary is offered is beyond her imagination, a life filled with education and the means with which to support herself or choose a husband. Mary, being the tenacious girl that she was when brought to the school chooses a life with The Agency, an all-female investigation group that is run out of the school for girls. It’s on her first assignment that she begins to realize that this life may be just what she was seeking, but then again…there may be more secrets beyond the doors of The Agency she may not want to overturn.

How exactly do you pack into small paragraphs all there is to love about this novel? First, I’ll attempt by saying it’s brilliant! It’s not often that you find a young adult mystery without paranormal aspects of some sort, especially as of late. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s refreshing to read a YA novel that’s a straight mystery. A Victorian Era mystery at that! I loved the details, the people, the homes, Mary’s school and so much more. You could even imagine the opening scenes at the gallows it was so vivid. Not only those things, but it wasn’t overly romantic. There was a slight romance budding towards the end, but that’s not what drove the story. It was the mystery, and with every turn of the page you slowly uncover the truth of what Mary’s truly looking for.

I’m completely taken with Mary Quinn and her resolve. There’s a quality lacking in so many of today’s young adult heroines that Mary has in spades, humanity. It seems as though, and this is totally my own opinion, that so many of these leading ladies are either one thing or another and very few are so well rounded that you could quite literally feel them jump off the pages of the books they’re in. Often they are overly human, making them too vulnerable, too angsty, or the opposite happens as well having them appear as callous and proud as possible. Not so with Lee’s portrayal of Mary Quinn. She’s strong and unwavering in her purposes, but there are moments throughout the book when she revealed that she was still human, still just a girl with emotions and doubts but not so much so that she broke down sobbing for pages on end. Mary is just the type of girl I’d love for my own Littlebug to love reading.

Also, as covers have often been botched in the recent past by omitting crucial characteristics of a leading character’s ethnicity it’s nice to see a character so accurately portrayed on a cover. Y.S. Lee even had the opportunity to post a little bit about the actual Cover Story for both this novel as well as the sequel, The Body at the Tower. It’s incredible to watch the process to shoot for a single book cover, but obviously it is well worth the effort because both novels have gorgeous (and accurate) covers!

On an absolutely positive note, I need to end by saying I adored The Agency: A Spy in the House, and I cannot wait to read the follow-up novel A Body in the Tower. Not only because I’m absolutely in love with the book, but because I’m dying to see what happens to Mary and if she learns more about her family. What Y.S. Lee has done with Mary Quinn is write an intelligent, resourceful, honest and human leading woman. Mary is a character you want young girls to fall in love with and read over & over. A marvelous start to what promises to be a very successful Young Adult mystery series!

The1stdaughter Recommends: Ages 13 and up. Mystery fans will want to run to pick up this story and girls will adore the tenacious leading lady, Mary Quinn.

Today’s post is part of our month long celebration of Candlewick Press for our monthly feature “Book Publishers 101“. Make sure to stop by the Candlewick Press Site for more information about this title and more. For more information about our Book Publishers 101 feature take a look at this month’s opening post.

Also make sure to take a look at our Giveaways Page for the four giveaways being sponsored by Candlewick press throughout this month!

Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing this book for review! Find Candlewick Press on Twitter and Facebook!
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11 Responses to Book Review: The Agency-A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

  1. O I’m so glad you liked this. I have a copy waiting for me 🙂

  2. Ann says:

    Great review – this sounds like a good read.

  3. Amused says:

    Oh this one sounds right up my alley! Historical fiction with a little mystery thrown in!

  4. This was not a book I really enjoyed. While I loved the premise of the I thought the characterization was lacking depth, and the relationship between James and Mary flimsy at best. I did however like the suspenseful ending. I need to read the next book in the series and see if that one is better. Still as always I enjoyed your thoughts on the book!

  5. NotNessie says:

    Great review! I have been wanting to read this one for a while.

  6. Great cover and great premise – thanks for sharing!

  7. Gina says:

    Certainly sounds like an interesting mystery…and a well written one at that! I’ve always been intrigued by this cover. The young lady on the front seems to be going somewhere and yet has a gleam of mischief in her eyes….very curious. Great review, Danielle! ^_^

  8. Kristen M. says:

    I loved both of the books in this series! They are absolutely fantastic YA novels that do more than just lip service to the Victorian Era.

  9. […] in learning more about the series? Take a look at my review of the first book, A Spy in the House! It’s absolutely a series that must be […]

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