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Palace of Spies Paperback – September 30, 2014
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Sixteen-year-old Peggy Fitzroy is an orphan, raised by her aunt and uncle in 1700s London. She is smart, charming, feisty, and unwilling to accept the repulsive and immoral suitor chosen for her. Angered by her refusal, her uncle throws her out. Homeless, Peggy agrees to disguise herself as a lady-in-waiting at the court of King George I, taking the name and identity of Lady Francesca Wallingham, recently deceased from supposedly natural causes. In this fashion, Peggy becomes a spy and finds herself involved in multiple mysterious and perhaps nefarious intrigues, all while falling in love with the handsome and gentlemanly artist Matthew. Zettel has created a dynamic, immensely likable heroine in Peggy, and she folds in plentiful history, both cultural and political. Clever chapter headings give a tongue-in-cheek taste of the nonstop action. Historical fiction readers will love the detailed clothing descriptions, and romantics will bask in the comfortably predictable pattern of Peggy and Matthew’s relationship. A sequel is in the works, and it will be eagerly anticipated by fans of Libba Bray. Grades 8-12. --Debbie Carton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
* "A rollicking spy caper in corsets. . . . This witty romp will delight fans of historical fiction as well as mystery lovers." —Kirkus, starred review
"Zettel has created a dynamic, immensely likable heroine in Peggy, and she folds in history, both cultural and political. . . . A sequel is in the works, and it will be eagerly anticipated by fans of Libba Bray." —Booklist
"A solid opening volley in a promising series." —Publishers Weekly
"The protagonist, clever and witty, makes a compelling heroine." —School Library Journal
"This combination of willful heroine and royal backdrop will appeal to history buffs and readers who like their subterfuge accessorized by a few frills and ruffles." —Bulletin
"The perfect balance of history and mystery, this novel is fantastic. . . . Sarah Zettel is an author to watch, and readers will be eagerly awaiting the next Palace of Spies installment." —VOYA, 4Q 4P J S
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Our heroine, Peggy Fitzroy, is a headstrong but well-meaning orphan who lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in King George I’s England. As a fortuneless waif with parents of dubious reputation (her father disappeared and her mother was rumored to be loose), Peggy has resigned herself to a life of spinsterhood, until one day her father informs her that she has been betrothed to a young gentleman in need of a bride in his home in Barbados.
Without giving away the course of events, Peggy’s stubborn nature and unwillingness to ignore injustice screw everything up. She’s tossed from her uncle’s home and saved by a mysterious trio of spy trainers eager to replace one of their dead companions in the court of the king with Peggy. I’ll admit that it may all sound farfetched to a modern reader, but Ms. Zettel constructs the scenario plausibly enough that I could push my doubts aside and enjoy the story.
And what a story! Palace of Spies is dutifully twisty in the most delightful way. Despite a few points where I felt otherwise clever characters were slow on the uptake, I gleefully bounced along with the lot of them as the intrigues and deceits piled on top of each other like layers in a parfait. A really, really yummy parfait.
One of the reasons the layers worked so well was the attention to detail Ms. Zettel utilized in her writing. Georgian England (that’s a thing, right?) is not a period in history I’m familiar with. I know medieval times, I know Victorian times, I know Industrial times, but this era of revolutions, face paints, and bustles was a blank for me. Though I didn’t quite understand the whys of everything (seriously? face paint and wigs?), Ms. Zettel was careful enough to give me enough of the whats, hows, and whos that I could piece together most of what I needed and feel comfortable in Peggy’s corner of the palace.
And the adventure! Palace of Spies isn’t all brainwork, though the brainwork is my favorite part. There’s sneaking and subterfuge, sword fights and attempted assassinations. Entire nations hang in the balance! TENSION!
Oh oh oh! And can we talk about our girl Peggy for a minute? She’s awesome. She’s mouthy without being annoying, intelligent, caring, and just the right touch of manipulative without being squicky. I want to be her best friend and/or lock her in a room with some of my other favorite mouthy and tricky characters to see how they get along. Her rapid mastery of various manners of deception and spy trickery is a little suspect, but watching her unravel the motivations of the other characters is a real treat.
The most important indication of how amazing this book was was that I was legitimately sad when it ended. I felt like the little kids in the State Farm commercial. I want more, I want moooooore! That said, I thought the ending brilliantly set up where Peggy and her adventures will go from here, and I can’t wait to join her.
Points Added For: Peggy and her clever mouthiness, the fun twists, historical details, Mrs. Abbott, Her Royal Highness Princess Caroline (AMAZING woman), just overall being a FUN read
Points Subtracted For: I didn’t really connect with the love interest, which was a pity
Good For Fans Of: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, clever and independent young ladies, SPIES, tricksiness
Notes For Parents: Attempted rape, drinking, mention of other teen characters who had sex, making out
Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Pretty much nothing!
Ok, that's a personal opinion, but it's an engine that drives a lot of satisfying fiction because there's no one right answer to the whole Pretendership problem. Also, there is some really great costuming detail going on in that era. The regency has a regrettable lack of INFRASTRUCTURE, clothing-wise.
The narrative voice in this book was just splendid.
<blockquote>As a result, I was kept at Uncle Pierpont’s house like a bad-tempered horse is kept in a good stable. That is, grudgingly on my uncle’s part and with a strong urge to kick on mine.</blockquote>
<blockquote>My experience with princesses, however, was both recent and extensive , and I knew for a certainty they were not permitted to run freely about the meadows or the mazes. I suspected this rule was observed all the more strictly for the ones rendered in miniature.</blockquote>
I loved Peggy, and the way she handled her sometimes extremely-limited set of choices with as much kindness and wit as she could muster. She's very interesting in people's motives, even when they behave badly to her.
The reason this is not a mid-grade book is that some people behave very badly indeed. I mean, in addition to the grisly murders and poisonings incumbent on any reasonable palace intrigue. Her hated rival seduces someone she thought she could trust. There's no one she can actually trust -- her guardian is cruel, and those who rescue her have their own agendas. Then she is thrust into the snakepit of court, and that's a whole different level of complexity. But possibly the worst thing, horror-wise, is <spoiler>attempted the date-rape scene. It's really interestingly handled. At first, she is grateful to her bethrothed, for rescuing her and being kind to her. She thinks he is pretty and kind and she is willing to trust herself alone with him because he got her out of a bad spot. But then he wants to touch her in ways that she is not excited about, her refusal makes him angry and mean, and he comes after her in more sexually aggressive ways, because after all, doesn't he have a right? And isn't she being a tease? And doesn't she deserve it? Wasn't she practically asking for it?</spoiler>. So THAT happens, and I thought it was really interesting to see how Zettel handled Peggy's emotions in the heat of the moment.
Read if: You love a good costume romance. You like imposter stories. Fake it till you make it is a great plot as far as you're concerned.
Skip if: You are triggered by sexual coercion, you don't ever want to read about stomachers and wigs.
Also read: Heyer's The Masqueraders, for another disguise-and-jacobite adventure.
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