Monday, April 8, 2013

Review: The Agency by Y.S. Lee









Candlewick Press


Books set during the Victorian age have always been a favorite of mine. Yet it wasn’t the best period in history for women. The time period was filled with perilous traps no matter what your status in life. A highborn Lady would find her life had but one purpose : to marry well. Working class women struggled to raise families on their husbands meager salaries and by taking in laundry and mending jobs and lower class families faced homelessness and hunger.

Mary Lang is born into a family who are barely getting by . Her father works on ships while her mother takes care of their home. When Mr. Lang disappears and is presumed dead Mary’s mother begins a life of prostitution to keep Mary fed. 


Soon after Mary’s mother dies leaving her alone on the harsh streets of London. Mary resorts to theft to survive and finds herself at the mercy of the London courts. There is no mercy to be had as she is sentenced to death by hanging. Mary’s story is no different than any other 12 year old homeless child but her story takes a decidedly different ending. Mary awakens from a Chloroform induced haze to find herself in a beautiful drawing room under the scrutiny of Anne Treleaven, the head of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Here Anne offers her what seems an impossible dream: room and board and the opportunity for an education.


Mary does well at the school growing stronger under the care of Anne and her fellow teachers. Yet Mary finds her self dissatisfied with the life of a teacher. Upon discussing this with her mentors she discovers another part of the school’s work. There is The Agency. A branch of school training that allows the girls to be dispatched on missions of great import to specific clients as well as being involved in acts that protect the English people as well/


Mary is a natural at observation and is not to shabby with a lock pick so she aces the training just in time to be placed at an important case. Mary’s first mission finds her living in the Thorold home to help in a case concerning Thorold  & Company. Mary Lang has become Mary Quinn a companion to the Thorold’s daughter Angelica.

Mary is told to take no risks, to watch and observe. She is only meant to be a support position for a better trained agent but it isn't in Mary’s nature to sit still, so she expands the bounds of her investigations and learns that their are more secrets in the Thorold home  than the Agency is aware of. Mary also  finds an ally in her investigations in the young Architect James whose brother is infatuated with Angelica.


I really enjoyed how Lee explored this time period. The existence of The Agency is a wonderful way to explore the time period and give the readers a variety of strong female characters to enjoy.

I also loved the diversity in the book. Mary has a mixed heritage.  She is fearful of the repercussions in her life if her ethnicity is discovered. I also loved the relationship between Mary and James. Romance between the two of them seems impossible, yet their feelings continue to grow.


Solid writing and character development, I'm really looking forward to book two in the series.      

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