Libri Dilectio: Series Review: The Agency

21 November 2011

Series Review: The Agency

A Spy in the House, Y.S. Lee
(Gr 7+)
Candlewick, March 9, 2010. Reviewed from library book.

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.”

 The Body at the Tower, Y.S. Lee
(Gr 7+)
Candlewick, Aug 10, 2010. Reviewed from library book.

In this, the second book of the series, Mary Quinn sets out to uncover the truth behind a suspicious death at St. Stephen’s Tower, better known as the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. The accident occurred after hours in a highly public part of town and despite the presence of night watchmen. Mary, disguised as Mark Quinn, becomes a builder’s assistant to find out the truth about the body at the tower.”

I’ve been meaning to read this series for awhile, but actually, I’m kind of glad that I waited. This way I was able to read the first one and immediately dive into the second one! That is the perk of being a late comer to a series.

Mary Quinn is a great character. She’s smart, brave, and nothing like other ladies of her time period. I love that she’s part street child, part thief, part lady, and part secret agent! She reminded me of Sally Lockhart, although Sally leans a little more to the lady side initially, she certainly becomes more and more of a strong, independent woman. I love Phillip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries and was very pleased to find a series that reminds me of them.

The mysteries in the series are wonderful. They keep the reader guessing, but are completely solvable by the reader if they pay attention. Mary doesn’t pull anything out of her hat at the last minute. Lee lays everything out for Mary and the reader. I figured out both of the mysteries and loved that I was able to. I think the best mysteries are the kind that the reader can solve with the main character. This is especially nice in mysteries written for teens.

Y.S. Lee is a great author! She writes compelling characters, interesting plots, and amazingly well researched stories. She has a PhD in Victorian Literature and Culture, and it shows reading these books. They are perfect for teens who want to learn about the time period, but don’t want to read a dry text book. I’ve already recommended the series to several teen girls, one of which came back to tell me how much she loved it and that she wanted the second one right away. If you’re looking for a great historical mystery series, check out The Agency, but try to get the first and second one, you’ll want both.


If you like The Agency, you might also like:
The Ruby in the Smoke, Phillip Pullman
A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray
The Diamond of Drury Lane, Julia Golding


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