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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Agency: A Spy in the House

It is May 1858, the beginning of London’s “Great Stink” — a blend of river pollution and heat wave that paralyzes the city. Tucked in the attic of a nondescript girls’ boarding school is the Agency, an intelligence service with a difference: it’s an elite, all-female group of private investigators with a reputation for getting things done. And it’s just hired a hotheaded, 17-year-old ex-thief whose on-the-job training goes completely wrong…

New agent Mary Quinn’s task is to pose as a lady’s companion and observe a merchant suspected of smuggling. But this straightforward assignment goes awry when Mary gets impatient and exceeds her mandate. Almost immediately, she finds competition in the shape of James Easton, an arrogant young man who’s doing some snooping of his own. They first tangle — literally — in a closet.

When pressed, Mary reluctantly joins forces with James. But as useful as the partnership may be, it’s also dangerous: their mutual attraction threatens to distract them from the real secrets of the merchant’s household. Eventually, they reveal a plot that threatens James’s life, as well as Mary’s own dark secrets…

The Agency is a far cry from some of the more recent YA historical mysteries. Rather than centering on high society and the glamour of the period, this novel is heavily set in the history of the time. Therein lies the true gem of the story.

While reading The Agency it quickly becomes apparent that Lee worked hard to nail down every finite historical fact. The Victorian Age is unique in and of itself, with industrialization coming about and all sorts of social changes that happen because of it. Lee touches upon all of these details. She focuses on everything from servants, to the wealthy, to the voice of the time. The novel is jam packed full of these detailed nuances, and yet it never becomes overbearing. They are expertly written, weaving a rich backdrop for Mary’s adventures and bringing the setting to life.

Now, I did have a few small issues with this novel. The biggest of these was the changing views between Mary and James. Due to the story being told from the third person omniscient view, these changes could become very confusing. I was not aware at first that the book would be changing point of views throughout, so when it did it took me a minute to figure out what exactly was going on. There was no real indication of the switch, making it even more confusing. Throughout reading the novel I was turned around quite a few times by the changing views. It was a good choice on Lee’s part, adding in a lot more depth and interest to the story. However, I feel it could’ve been more clearly indicated. That said, I’d suggest keeping an eye out for the switches.

The Agency was a wonderful, intricate mystery crafted against an incredibly well written historical back drop. While the history was fabulous, it also made the novel move a bit slowly. Over all, however, I still enjoyed this novel. For anyone who loves rich historical fiction, you won't want to miss this promising new series.

3.5 stars!

Source: Traveling to Teens 


  1. I hadn't heard of this one before. Looks interesting! Thanks for the review. :)

  2. I must admit I really enjoy anything from the period of Victorian times. I love reading work of this era as I enjoy imagining the costumes and the incredible differences in classes to which that period so much portrayed.

    CJ xx
    p.s. found you via Twitter x

  3. Nice blog and well written :-)



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