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The Agency: A Spy in the House Book Review

I’m almost caught up on the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge. Yay! This makes book #4 and it’s only June. We’ve got plenty of time!

I first saw this book last Spring in a small children’s book store on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s been on my to-read list since and my only regret is that I didn’t get to it sooner. The Agency is an adventure-packed young adult mystery but there’s nothing juvenile about the writing. Mary is a sharp seventeen-year-old living in Victorian England who’s not happy with the normal occupations available to a girl in her situation. Fortunately for her, this is not a normal story. Mary’s teachers and mentors have a secret – and Mary is about to be included.

Y.S. Lee doesn’t waste time throwing you into the middle of the action. Within a few chapters you have the main mystery, a mysterious young man hiding in a wardrobe, and foreshadowing of a secret all Mary’s own. I thought the pacing was excellent. The story dips and rises steadily, leaving you no time to either get bored or battle-fatigued. Mary is a woman of action, which does get her into some trouble, but if she stuck to her actual assignment, the story would not be very interesting.

One of my favorite surprises was that James, Mary’s partner-in-crime, plays a central role in the story and Lee takes you into his head and follows his part of the tale too. I always love when books with a female lead follow the male lead around a little. It offers a nice break in the storytelling. Plus, James is a complex and driven character and it’s nice to see the action from his vantage point at times. Watching Mary and James interact is always entertaining, and you get plenty of time with the two of them as well.

As a writer, I always pay special attention to the writing itself and Lee paints some beautiful word pictures. Her writing is not overly flowery, but she dapples her storytelling with unusual and well-placed images that enrich the experience.

The cliffhanger is more about Mary’s secret than anything else. But Mary and James alone make me want to read the rest of this trilogy. And it makes me excited to see what else Y.S. Lee has up her sleeve!