Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Review: The Agency Book One: A Spy in the House

I might have messed up that title slightly since it's written a little oddly wherever I've seen it but oh well, at least this way it's easy enough to understand what book I'm referring to. I had seen a post on the The Book Smugglers blog recommending the latest volumes a few months ago and decided to go ahead and check out the first book so I could see if I wanted to catch up to this later volume.

The Agency 1: A Spy In The House by Y.S. Lee

1850s London, Mary was once sent to the gallows as a young girl who didn't care if she lived or died but was rescued by a mysterious organization who seek to better young girls' lives by giving them education and training. She's been grateful to them ever since but unsure she wants to continue to be a teacher at the school, when offered a chance for more, interesting investigative work she takes it up in a heart beat and finds herself investigating a strange series of insurance claims and discovers that there are others looking into the case as well.

I was slightly horrified when I read this book to realize I was becoming my mother and viewing historical British, semi-romances as a kind of comfort reading. Given how many books like this there are it's rather hard for any one, individual work to stand out in a crowd and I'm afraid to say that this one just didn't stick out to me, it felt too familiar. Mary, really all the characters, felt more like a combination of character traits than a fully fleshed out character and the story tided itself up too neatly in the end (especially that it now has multiple sequels). Oh sure there were twists a-plenty to get to the ending but for a story where one of it's themes was "women are their own characters and value the freedom to do what they want" the characters just didn't feel very real to me in the end. Mary came the closest but even then I felt like Lee was trying to make her inquisitive but not toooo rebellious so that Mary wouldn't have to suffer un-due consequences. Amazon informs me that the book is intended for age 12/US grade 7 and up which is interesting since I had assumed it was an adult book with a lot of YA crossover appeal, it's unusual to have several characters killed violently off-screen like this in YA. 

One thing that I remembered when I was about halfway through was that the reviews had mentioned some PoC (people of color) characters and I wondered where they were, it seemed odd that the book would have so much praise for it if they were only introduced several books into the series. Immediately after I got my answer and, since it is a bit of a surprise I won't spoil it here but I do think that it was a smart idea and one that works very well with both the current calls for diversity and "historical accuracy" given the English social circles this story is set in. In the end that's the only part of this book that stood out to me and for some people it might be worth reading then, diversity is hard to come by the stupidest of reasons and this was well-done. But for me I'm going to continue with other recommendations instead and see if one of them clicks with me more.


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