When this book first came in, I admit I swooned a little over it’s description: A secret girls’ school that trains spies set in Victorian London? Genius! I was not disappointed; A Spy in the House is the love child of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy and Ally Carter’s Gallagher series and then some. The Victorian era is everywhere these days, with the emergence of steam punk in children’s lit and Sherlock Holmes showing up on screen and in literature. Y.S. Lee adds a fresh perspective on the era.
At merely 12 years old, Mary Quinn is on her way to becoming a lifetime criminal when she is apprehended and sentenced to death. She is rescued from the galleys, seconds from hanging, by a warden who whisks her away to Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, where she is given a second chance . At the end of her schooling, Mary is given the opportunity to join The Agency, an elite, secret company of female investigators. Her first job finds her battling with a beautiful but spoiled charge, butting heads with the handsome but arrogant James Easton, and wandering through unsavoury parts of London.
Being Victorian, there are of course whiffs of Jane Austen, particularly in the relationship between Mary and James. James has a serious case of the Mr. Darcys: proud, arrogant, and dare I say, prejudiced. He is both appealing and infuriating, which is exactly what one expects to find in a love/hate relationship. Mary is every bit his equal, a fact James grudgingly comes to admit in a spectucular role reversal near the very end.
Like Libbra Bray, Y.S. Lee deftly folds social commentary into her narrative, particularly on the status of women and immigrants. Holding a PhD in Victorian literature and culture, Lee is able to pepper her text with the kind of detail that historical fiction junkies crave, but it never stops the momentum of the story. Lee has crafted a first-rate page turner with wide appeal. I look forward to the next book in the Mary Quinn series. Lee (a Canadian!) is definitley one to watch.
A Spy in the House is available now from Candlewick Press.