A Spy in the House – Y.S. Lee

25 Jul

Series: The Agency, #1
ISBN:  9780763640675
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Audience: Middle Grade / YA
Overall Rating: 7/10
In 1850s London, Mary Lang was plucked from the hangman’s noose—almost literally—and offered a place at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Finished with her education, Mary is informed that, should she choose to accept it, she may have a future with The Agency—a network of women spies handpicked by the academy who do important investigative work for the Scotland Yard, among others. Mary is placed as a companion to the daughter of a rich family whose father is suspected of dodgy dealings in opium. As the mission progresses and conflicts come to a head, it seems more and more likely that Mary’s first assignment might also be her last.
I like to think of this as an old-fashioned, London-style Nancy Drew mystery (which I hope is taken as a compliment). As a mystery itself, it was a bit predictable, but I think that’s because I’m older than the intended audience. As a twelve year old, I think I would have found it suspenseful and intriguing. As it was, I barely set it down (but I love mystery, London, AND the 1800s, so you know).

The plot was well-executed, with enough hints dropped and a few surprises on the way—though like I said, younger kids might find more surprises than I did. I actually read the sequel as well (The Body at the Tower) and found it just as enjoyable, which I think predicts a good, new series of mystery books for young people.

I loved the characters in this book. They seemed perfect—Mary was strong and eager, but made a lot of mistakes along the way, which she wasn’t too strong-willed to learn from. Her partner in crime(solving), James Easton, is exactly the kind of male character I like to see: he accepted Mary’s eccentricities but still allowed himself to get angry with her. He wasn’t besotted and he wasn’t stupid, either.
The cast of other characters were rich in personality and description, and some had a lot more depth to them than first thought. I enjoyed watching all of the characters grow and change as the story progressed, and it was the characters themselves more than the plotline that kept me guessing and turning pages throughout the story, something I always love.
As far as place goes, I thought the polluted London air and water, the geography, and the city was all described quite well. I found myself reminiscing about my months in London and remembering exactly what if felt like to walk along the Thames (though it wasn’t quite as smelly!), or visit the suburbs described.

In terms of time, though, I think that some more research—or application of research—could have been done. I didn’t feel immersed in 1850. The language sometimes slipped into a more modern tongue. The general feel was off a bit, but I didn’t think that it detracted from the story much. Then again, I read this purely for enjoyment without looking too closely at issues that would usually bother me.


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