A Spy in the House (The Agency #1) by Y.S. Lee
Let’s get started with a book series (well the first book in the series anyway) I recently read and really liked.
I like the atmosphere of this cover and it has something to do with the book (Victorian setting) and and the model actually looks like how the main character is described in the book (half-Asian but looks more Western). Also the font is very pretty but it’s not too much. I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen holding this book in public.
London, 1850s. Mary Quinn is an orphan and a thief but just before she’s executed she is saved and brought to a school for girls where she has the chance to get an education and to learn proper manners. However, there’s more to Ms. Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls than meets the eye, it is also the head quarter of “The Agency” that consists of only female spies. After being recruited by the headmistress, Mary’s first assignment is disguising herself as a lady’s companion and infiltrating the house of a merchant who’s under suspicion of insurance fraud and it is Mary’s job to collect evidence.
Mary is a brave, smart and independent young woman, which is a rarity in Victorian England. Because of her hard childhood, she’s resourceful and clever (like pretending to be a boy so she can walk the streets freely). Despite all that she’s still compassionate and likable. She could be unreasonably stubborn and made some wrong decisions which put her in danger but she never made any rash decisions, she’s also not too proud to accept help when she realized that she can’t do something alone.
The Heart Rate
James Easton, what can I say? You stole my heart. The first time we meet James is at the house of the merchant Mary works for. He’s a lot like Mary in some ways. He’s also stubborn and brave and smart. He has very strong views about what’s socially acceptable but Mary totally shattered his world view. James is not one of those overly possessive alpha male types but he actually respects Mary’s decisions and treats her like an equal. He might not like it, but he trusts her enough to go along with her plans. Mary and James’ relationship develops slowly (their first meeting is very notable). It’s definitely not insta-love, the attraction is there from the beginning but it all started with a reluctant alliance to pool their information about the merchant. Because they are so alike, they often argue and banter which is funny to read but you can also definitely see the sexual tension underneath the witty remarks.
- The Victorian setting really sets the mood. There is no romaticizing but the author describes London in the mid-19th century perfectly (in my opinion), I could basically smell the stink of the Thames.
- The main character is half-Chinese. YAY! There should be more diversity in YA fiction. Plus, it was interesting to see how Asians dealt with live in Victorian London.
- The women in this book are all strong in some way or another. Alone the fact that The Agency is all-female shows that no men are needed, they aren’t however man-haters either, one of the head of the agency even wants to recruit James. Not all girls are obviously fitting to be spys, those girls are prepared and educated in order to get jobs as governesses or teachers etc., i.e. they are taught the skills that will help them to support themselves so they don’t have to rely on a husband.
It’s only a small thing (to me at least) but the mystery was a bit lacking. I suspected the culprit very early on. I was actually more interested to find out more about Mary’s past and the mystery surrounding her father’s disappearance at sea.
This book was great, with likable characters and I was thankful that the second and third installation were already out, so I could read more about Mary and James’ adventures.