Victorians, Pirates & Espionage!

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

Release Date: March 2010
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pages: 335 pages
Source & Format: Library; Hardcover
Series: The Agency #1

Sum It Up (from Goodreads)
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.

By Its Cover: Simple & Straightforward
I like this cover better online than in person. For some reason, it looks like a computer illustration (rather than a real model) in person. Otherwise, it's just fine. Mary, our heroine, is fleeing a lit building. While it looks a bit juvenile, I like the key "hidden" in the word agency.

Amen, Sister Friend
Mary Quinn is my kind of heroine. She's smart, independent and stands up for herself. As an orphan on the streets, she's able to survive on her own. As a young woman, she's courageous and thinks for herself. I loved that she desired more for herself than to just get married and have no occupation. She wants to work and put her mind to the test. I really liked that about her! While I enjoyed her, I didn't feel entirely connected to her. I think the writing is a little bit to blame for that, and I'm hoping that will improve with the second book.

I will note that Mary isn't exactly the most believable character. Based on the time period in which the novel is set, she takes certain actions and does things that make her more "modern" than she probably should. As a lover of historical fiction, you can spot characters that don't really belong. However, I still loved her and it didn't bother me too much once I just decided to get over it and go along for the ride.

Literary Love
There is banter. Y'all, I love me some banter. While the book isn't overly romantic, I think it's definitely setting the stage for more romance to come. And I didn't want it to stop! There were moments when I was enjoying the romantic tension so much that I didn't want the plot to go on. I just wanted to hang out and let Mary and James chat longer.

I loved the chemistry going on this book. Seriously. I was smiling every time James came around because I knew I was in for a few smiles. Plus, since it's set in England, I imagined his British accent and fell more in love with him. Mary wants to resist him, but how are you supposed to resist a charming, handsome fellow? The answer is: you don't.

Word Nerd
This is the area where I think the book was a little lacking. The writing is very straightforward, and it's almost a little boring at times. Lee doesn't spend a lot of time on world building, and I really wished there had been more time spent on that. I didn't have a good sense of how or why the Agency was created. I didn't really learn anything about Victorian England, especially since the characters felt modern in many respects.

Also, the mystery didn't really move the plot along. It's a thinly veiled mystery, and I certainly didn't find the culprit's identity very shocking. A lot of the "clues" were pretty obvious, and they were delivered in the dialogue. You aren't really "discovering" anything for yourself, and neither was Mary.

Now, I still enjoyed the book, but it wasn't really the mystery that had me hooked. As you can probably tell, it was the love story. I wanted to love the mystery aspect more, but I think it needed more work. I will definitely be checking out book two because I have high hopes that the writing will improve and the mystery will be more thrilling. It's a book with lots of potential, and I'm willing to give it another chance to make me fall in love.

So Quotable
Amusement gleamed in his eyes. "Do I look the type to ruin my life by falling in love and getting married?"
"Well, if that's your attitude, you'll certainly end up a lonely, embittered old man."
"Oh, I'll marry eventually," he said calmly. "But when I do, it'll be for the right reasons."
"Which are?"
He waved his hand vaguely. "Money. Business contacts. Political connections."

"One day you'll appreciate the finer points of my character."
"Finer points? Plural?"
"So many you'll grow dizzy trying to count them."

Bottom Line
Check this book out from the library if you're looking for a fun, cute historical mystery. While there is room for improvement, it offers a fun escape with an admirable heroine. I'll definitely be continuing on to the second book in hopes that it offers a more complex mystery. And, you know, more James. Because I'm a sucker for banter.


  1. True story - I JUST started reading this last week on le Kindle. Kindred spirits, we are.

    I can't WAIT for the banter! I'm just bumbling up to the point where she was all "Listen yo, I don't want to teach and I suck at nursing so let's figure something else out."

    I'll try to focus on the awesome characters and let some of the HERE YOU GO plot slide.

    Keep me posted with your thoughts with the next book!

    1. Ah yes kindred spirits! Love it.

      I was definitely frustrated with the "HERE YOU GO plot," but just focus on the banter. It makes everything better!

      Can't wait to hear what you think of this one once you're done!

  2. I am a sucker for banter too. It's one of those book things that I find extremely bizarrely attractive.

    It sucks that this wasn't best book ever right out of the gate, but I am still looking forward to checking it out someday, cuz omg mystery and victorians and orphans, yeah I am always down for that.

    1. Oh, I have major love for banter. It's definitely a major sell when I'm considering a book!

      And you'll definitely have to check it out! I really enjoyed it, even though I didn't love everything about it. The mystery, Victorians and orphans totally won me over :)


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