Twelve-year-old Mary Quinn was rescued from a life of thievery and mischief by a certain Miss Treleavan, and now, five years later, has completed her lessons at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy of Girls and is teaching the younger girls lessons in education and manners. When she is approached by Miss Treleavan and asked to be a part of a secret agency of reputable female investigators, she cannot help but volunteer her services.
Mary is chosen to be companion to an upper class teenager caught up in the woes of love and the great stench and heat that has beset the entire city of London during the spring of 1858. But it is the young girl’s father that Mary has set her wits after, to find out exactly why his ships, filled with fine goods and imports, continue to sink mysteriously with very little evidence.
The first book in a series of Mary Quinn mysteries, A Spy in the House is a beautifully woven Victorian-era mystery written by author Y.S. Lee. Being set in the Victorian era, one might think that the language could either 1) fall short of the true depth of language used during this time or 2) be so overwhelming the novel becomes difficult to follow and enjoy. You will be happy to know that neither of these scenarios plays out. Lee has completed a PhD in Victorian literature and culture, so you should not be surprised to hear that the language and how it is used is one of the best aspects of this novel. Most young readers will not find themselves caught up on the words used, but will still feel as if they are a part of London culture in the 1850’s.
Speaking of language, my personal favorite part of the novel was the relationship between Mary and, essentially, her partner-in-crime, James. They are obviously enamored of each other, yet cannot reveal those feelings as they are strictly to have a business-type relationship. The banter between the two leaves enough to the imagination for the reader to dream of what might become of the two together.
If you are one that hopes and dreams for stronger, less passive female characters in children’s and young adult literature, this novel will most definitely suffice. Nay, it will exceed your expectations. At some points in the novel, I thought Mary’s character and other female characters to be a bit too forthcoming. But it is such a bad idea to ingrain the minds of young women that they can be aggressive and skilled and be applauded for it? I think not. Mary Quinn is the perfect protagonist, in my opinion.
Also, can I just give a quick shoutout to the gorgeous cover? Beautiful, I say.
Also, if you liked this book, check out The Agency #2 The Body at the Tower, which released in paperback just over a week ago.
The Agency: A Spy in the House
by Y.S. Lee
Published in March 2010
P.S. This is the first book that qualifies for my Canadian Reading Challenge. one down, 12 more to go!