Orphan Mary Quinn lives on the edge. Sentenced as a thief at the age of twelve, she’s rescued from the gallows by a woman posing as a prison warden. In her new home, Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, Mary earns a singular education, fine manners, and a surprising opportunity. The school is a cover for the Agency – an elite, top-secret corps of female investigators with a reputation for results – and at seventeen, Mary’s about to join their ranks.
With London all but paralyzed by a noxious wave, Mary must work fast in the guise of a lady’s companion to infiltrate a rich merchant’s home with hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the Thorold household is full of dangerous secrets, and people are not what they seem – least of all Mary. [Summary from ARC]
For historical fiction to be successful, I believe, it must be transporting; though surrounded by modern amenities, I want all of it to recede, to give way to a different time. Y.S. Lee managed that and more with A Spy in the House.
One of my favorite aspects of this first novel featuring Mary Quinn was the atmosphere. Stifling heat, the Thames ripe with waste and flooding the air with a horrid scent, the layers of garments that women wore, making the warmth even more unbearable. The unpleasant smell aside, I felt like I was walking the streets with Mary, indulging in the occasional act of breaking and entering. It was all great fun. But my very favorite thing about this novel, well, that would be the nipping banter between Mary and James Easton.
James is arrogant, insufferable, and he can’t figure Mary out, which sharpens his tongue while he throws civility to the wind. But when she matches him, barb for barb, his interest in her begins to shift almost without him noticing. I loved their encounters – his rash words, her rush of indignation. So, for me, the characterization of these two, particularly, was the highlight of the novel.
At times, and probably without help for it, pieces of the plot were too convenient. Mysteries always run that risk. A Spy in the House, at least, poked fun at a few of the more overused mystery tropes, namely the villainous monologue that lays bare all evil intentions and wrong doings. I also appreciated the fact that Mary, at seventeen, made mistakes. Training or no, if she were some sort of super spy or sleuth the story wouldn’t have been believable in the least. Mary, hoping to make the Agency proud, takes unnecessary and hasty action, she shows her hand too soon, and generally lets her impatience get the better of her. I liked her more for it, actually.
Overall, A Spy in the House was highly enjoyable, and left me wanting to tag along with Mary on her future assignments for the Agency.
I received an ARC of The Agency: A Spy in the House from the publisher.