- Age Range: 12 and up
- Grade Level: 7 - 9
- Series: The Agency (Book 1)
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (April 26, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0763687480
- ISBN-13: 978-0763687489
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 134 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #144,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Agency: A Spy in the House Paperback – April 26, 2016
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Mary's first case puts her in the Thorold household as companion to Angelica Thorold who is the bored daughter of an invalid mother and a businessman father. Mr. Thorold is suspected of smuggling antiquities from the Far East along with his other more legal shipments.
Mary finds that she has entered a house of secrets. While investigating Mr. Thorold's office she encounters James Easton who is also investigating. James and his brother George run an engineering firm. George has decided that he's fallen in love with Angelica and wants to marry her. James wants to make sure the Thorold's business interests won't cause problems.
Mary and James decide to work together since their interests coincide but neither quite trusts the other and James is a typical chauvinist of his age and time. Their investigations take them to warehouses and to a home for aging Chinese sailors among other places. Mary learns something of the past she has been denying.
The story was filled with action and was an interesting historical mystery. I liked the way Mary has to deal with the conventions of the time. I also liked that Mary was smart, daring and resourceful. I liked the realistic romance that was beginning between James and Mary and how it was resolved.
This two-fold belief leads to the ability to hire out the services of this mysterious group's female agents because no one will bat an eyelash at saying things in front of women that they will say in front of men. Is this sexist? Yes. Is it realistic for the time as well? Also yes.
The first book, A Spy in the House follows a young beginner agent named Mary Quinn. Miss Quinn has escaped a very harsh and tragic life on the streets (and gallows) when the Agency took her in as a student and later teacher. Upon finding out the truth of what the school does, Mary jumps at the opportunity presented to her to become an agent. As she is untested, and a novice agent, her first mission is a simple one: she is to observe what occurs around a family that a senior agent is investigating, and report back any suspicious activities she observes. It is a training mission, really. Nothing more. However, a convergence of factors, including her pride and a new possible ally, lead her to a far more involved role than she, or her superiors at the Agency, were prepared for.
I really enjoyed this novel for a few reasons. One is that it isn't steampunk, but still dealt with some neat themes. Please do no not misunderstand. I am starting to love steampunk as a genre, but so often the cool stories with strong women characters, chivalrous men, and compelling interpersonal plot lines taking place in the past are steampunk. That this author did so in a very realistic portrayal of 19th century England, is terrific.
I also appreciated that this wasn't some screed against men, and didn't excuse bad women simply because they were mistreated. It is a work that has both good and bad men and women as characters, and treats them thusly. When a character does something particularly selfish, it isn't just passed off as her being a "strong woman not submitting to a man", but seen for what it is, bad behavior.
The research the author put in was obvious, and only served to strengthen the work. In fact, the only real criticism I have is that is still don't understand why the one bad guy didn't put a stop to the other bad guy's plans. Yes, there were legal issues, but nothing that should have made the one just endure it so pathetically. But, in a way, the one bad guy not being QUITE as ruthless works to the book's theme. And that's all I'll say about that. Also, the ending was a tad rushed. I really would like some more wrap-up than what this book gave us.
Other than the above, the work was terrific, very meticulously researched, and well-worth a read.
Coming from a multiple-ethnic, multi-racial (Hispanic, Anglo, Japanese) of siblings and in-laws who can look and pass for every group listed, I am so happy that stories, finally, have protagonists of different ethnic, cultural and racial backgrounds. I am 80% through the series and I'm loving it. Hope the author continues with this plucky heroine and write not only for Y.A. but for us adults as we'll.