Twelve-year-old orphan Mary Quinn is whisked away from a death sentence at the gallows for being a thief, and instead is given a second chance by some most unusual women. She attends their school, and upon graduation possesses the skills - not to mention the charming manners required of women in Victorian society - to find employment. But to her surprise she discovers that the women who run the school are also running a secret agency of women spies. She is invited to join their ranks, and she jumps at the opportunity.
Her first assignment is as a lady's companion to the daughter of a wealthy merchant suspected of insurance fraud. She is merely to observe and report anything of pertinence she discovers; as she is a new and inexperienced operative, she is not to pry or do any active investigating. Of course Mary has other ideas about that, and soon she finds herself in a tight spot indeed.
This was a highly enjoyable debut in what is doubtless to be an entertaining mystery series for teens (and some of us YA-book-loving adults as well). The book explores an aspect of this time period of London (I won't go into the specifics here, as there are potential spoilers) that is rarely mentioned in historical novels, which was a refreshing - and educational - change. I was a little disappointed that the school Mary attends is more of a finishing school, rather than a dedicated institution (like the Gallagher Academy) whose main goal is to teach girls the necessary skills to become expert operatives). It seems as though Mary's training is going to be on the job, and I found it rather unbelievable that with so little actual training the agency heads would allow Mary to be placed into a position where she was so isolated and unsupported. That is a minor quibble, though - I adore the premise, and I found Mary to be an engaging heroine, and I very much look forward to her future adventures.
Books in The Agency series:
1. A Spy in the House
2. The Body at the Tower
A Spy in the House (#1 in The Agency series) by Y.S. Lee (Candlewick Press, 2010)
Source: My local public library
Also reviewed at:
One Librarian's Book Reviews: "The setting and the time period in this book simply glowed! Not to mention, I really like Mary, a tough heroine who made the transition from street thief to educated woman beautifully."
Wondrous Reads: "By the time I reached the end of Mary's story, I was entertained, surprised, and looking forward to the second book in the series."
The YA YA YAs: "My main criticism of A Spy in the House is the surfeit of expository dialogue in the early chapters, especially Chapter One. Otherwise, I very much enjoyed the book, so much so that this is one of the increasingly few times I’m actually excited that a book is the first in a series."