Book Description: Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.
Good for people who enjoy: strong female leads, British history, mysteries, minority protagonists
Review: The first point about this story that I enjoyed was uniqueness of Y.S. Lee’s approach to the mid-1800s. She doesn’t focus on all the aspects that most authors tend to romanticize. Her protagonist, Mary Quinn, is an orphan of Asian immigrant – who were a very mistreated minority at the time. The Agency itself is a stab at the sexism in that period, as it uses the fact that people underestimated women to their advantage. It also includes a romantic aspect, although that’s by no means the main point of the story being told. I approve of her love interest, as he’s not threatened by Mary’s strength – although perhaps surprised. The bantering between the two makes for some humorous moments. There’s also very good attention to historical detail that made me extremely interested in that time period. Lee brilliantly uses every part of that era to the benefit of the story.
Although there are some moments where Mary messes up, she follows into the stereotype of a protagonist following almost too naturally into role of investigator. There is suspense in finding out who committed the crime, but I never felt worried for any of the main characters’ safety. This hurt the attempted tension in some of the major scenes. With that said, Mary is still presented as a very sympathetic character who I’ve personally grown to care for.
Overall, it’s an interesting plot with a likeable protagonist in a brilliant time period. The fact the main character is of Asian heritage makes me so excited because that is so underrepresented in Victorian Era literature. I’ve already bought the second (and third…) and would strongly recommend this to be put on anyone’s to-read list!
Overall Rating: 4 stars
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