temporaryworlds (temporaryworlds) wrote in bookish,

#81 A Spy in the House by A.S. Lee

Twelve-year-old Mary has been sentenced to death by hanging due to her crimes as a thief. Before she can meet her fate, she is rescued by a representative of Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, a school dedicated to giving women independence in a world where their options are very limited. Mary accepts, and later becomes a teacher for the school. But at seventeen, Mary finds herself yearning for a more fulfilling career. It's then that she learns that the school is actually a cover for The Agency, an organization of all-female spies. They invite Mary to become a member, and send her out on her first case, to play paid companion to a rich daughter in a family where everyone seems to have a secret.

Although my first love has always been fantasy, historical fiction was more or less my second love when I was in my late teens. Since then, I've backed away for historical fiction in favor of paranormal/urban fantasy, but every now and then a novel comes out to remind me why I loved this genre so much in the first place. A Spy in the House is one of those novels. Much like Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart Trilogy (a favorite of mine during high school), A Spy in the House tells about an independent young woman living in Victorian England who finds herself caught up in a mystery. One of the main reasons I enjoyed this book was because Mary was such an likable protagonist. Intelligent, and assertive, Mary also has the habit of being a little too impulsive and rash. Beyond being a historical mystery, A Spy in the House also has a satisfying romantic side plot. Those who appreciate romance centered around quick banter, will find the relationship between Mary and James to be a lot of fun.

The book's main focus, even more so than the mystery plot, appears to be showing the reader what it was like to be a woman living in England during the mid-1800s, and those who struggle against these restrictions. As a result, the book has feminist leanings, which I really enjoyed. Although I cannot really comment on the accuracy of the book (my knowledge of Victorian England is pretty basic), I feel as if the author did a great job of transporting us to Mary's London from her descriptions of everything from the sights to smells. One thing that surprised me about this book was the fact that the mystery plot did not revolve around Mary investigating a murder, and is instead focused more on gathering intelligence. Given that Mary is on her first job for the agency, this seemingly less life threatening position made sense. At the same time, I couldn't help but be impressed by the fact that Lee made gathering information so exciting. A Spy in the House is very fast paced. I flew through the book over just two days.

A Spy in the House is a well-written, fast paced novel filled with great characters and suspenseful situations. Easily the best historical fiction novel I've read all year, I look forward to reading the second novel in the series, The Body in the Tower, once my library gets a copy.

Rating: five stars
Length: 335 pages
Source: Lewiston Public Library
Similar Books: Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart trilogy, which begins with The Ruby in the Smoke. This book also reminded me of Ann Rinaldi's Finishing Becca.
Other books I've read by this author: This is my first

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Tags: xxx author last name: r-z

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