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The Body at the Tower April 29, 2013

The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee

The Agency 2

Mary Quinn is back in this exciting sequel to A Spy in the House.  Now, a full-fledged member of The Agency, she is given her first official assignment.  She is to pose as an apprentice builder to investigate the suspicious death of a bricklayer at St. Stephen’s Tower- the unfinished Houses of Parliament.  Thankfully petite Mary is able to don the ragged garb, chop off her hair and pose as a young man.  As “Mark” she introduces us to the world of the working poor.  Mary’s assignment brings forth memories of her own difficult childhood on the streets of London, where she once dressed as a boy for her own safety.

Mary is thrust into this underbelly of squalor and depravity.  She attempts to aid Jenkins, another young worker on the job site while investigating the mysterious case.  If all that wasn’t difficult enough, Mary’s old sparring partner James Easton is again in the picture.  Back from India, a weakened James coincidentally enters Mary’s building site.  Will James keep her secret or blow her cover?  And more importantly, will their acquaintance lead to romance?

Lee again makes Victorian London a focus of this novel.  Through Mary the reader is able to view the horrors of poverty.  Reminiscent of Dickens, the back alleys and dark basements roil with filth and sadness . Class distinctions and gender roles pigeon-hole many of the characters.  Through her work for the Agency, Mary is able to transcend these. Identity is a major theme in this novel.  As Mary hides her femaleness by cutting her hair and binding her chest, she is also hiding deeper secrets.  Described as exotic, we learned that Mary is half Chinese in the first installment of The Agency.  Her real last name is Lang, but was changed to better assimilate into British society.   She has so far shunned this part of herself, shutting out memories of her past. While distancing herself from her Asian roots, Mary has also learned to use her heritage to her advantage. She easily treads the boundaries of class, race and gender.

I have already said I am a fan of this series. Victorian England, mysteries, and intriguing protagonist, Lee delivers another winner. Through the course of the first two novels, Mary has matured.  I am curious to see Mary as she grows in age, experience and confidence.  The third book in The Agency series, The Traitor and The Tunnel is next on my list.

 

A Spy in the House April 25, 2013

A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

agency

An orphan in Victorian London.  The possibilities are endless.  In Y.S. Lee’s debut novel, we meet Mary Quinn.  After being sentenced to hang, twelve-year-old Mary is whisked away by a prison guard, sparing her from the gallows.  Her savior is really Anne Treleaven, mistress of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls.  Mary is welcomed and given an education befitting a proper lady.  Upon graduation, Anne reveals the school is really a front for The Agency, an all-female detective group. Now seventeen, Mary joins their ranks.

Her first assignment is to infiltrate the household of the Thorold family, rich merchants.  While posing as paid companion to the daughter Angela, Mary attempts to discover what happened to Thorold’s missing cargo ships.  While undercover she encounters James Easton, brother to Angela’s fiancé.  He is also snooping around, trying to find cause for his brother not to marry.  Mary discovers everyone has secrets.  She even has some of her own.

I am happy to say I have a new favorite series.  A lover of Victoriana and mysteries, The Agency is right up my alley.  Mary Quinn is a charming character; smart and spunky.  There is just the right amount of drama, mystery and romance to appeal to any reader.  Fans of period fiction will love Lee’s descriptions of 1850’s London, “Great Stink” and all.  I am pleased to announce the second and third books, The Body at the Tower and The Traitor in the Tunnel are already on the shelf and eagerly await reading.

 

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland February 24, 2013

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 8:21 pm
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wildthornLouisa Cosgrove is on her way to be a companion to the eldest daughter of the Woodville family.  Instead she is brought to Wildthorn Hall, an asylum for the mentally insane.  Immediately stripped of all her belongings, she is addressed only as Lucy Childs.  There must be some mistake.  She’s Louisa, not Lucy!  She’s expected at the Woodvilles.  Someone must straighten this out.  No explanation, no recourse, no hope of freedom, Louisa is left to fend for her self and figure out how and why she is trapped in this nightmare.

The daughter of a doctor, Louisa grew up being encouraged to learn and dream.  She wasn’t like other Victorian young ladies. Her aspirations are wider than marriage and motherhood.  Louisa longs to be a doctor, like her father.  When he suddenly dies, Louisa’s world begins to unravel.  Gone are her hopes for the future she wants.  Her brother, squandering his opportunities, scoffs at her.  Her mother and aunt suggest she accepts her fate as a lady, and ladies are not doctors!

Fast forward and we are with Louisa as she encounters firsthand the horrors of a Victorian lunatic asylum.  The doctors here are nothing like her kind, compassionate father.  Monstrous treatments and bestial living conditions are endured by those kept at Wildthorn Hall.  Louisa’s only glimmer of light in her darkened existence is Eliza, one of the workers.  With her assistance, Louisa will unearth the truth of who she is and who is responsible for her incarceration.

Eagland exposes the reader to the true atrocities that were perpetrated in the name of science and medicine.  We are with Louisa as she is stripped naked and bound in a bathtub of cold water.  Our minds linger over the horrors she witnesses and endures. And gnawing at the back of our consciousness is that little seed of doubt.  Who is Louisa …or is it Lucy?

Wildthorn is an exquisitely crafted thriller that delves deeply into the harsh reality of a Victorian woman who didn’t want to conform to the social norms of the time.  Imagine your only path one of wife and mother.  No education, no career.  And if your husband or family thinks you’re not behaving appropriately, off you go to the asylum!  I think the sentence that encapsulates the feelings that permeated the time is, “Excessive study, especially in one of the fair sex, often leads to insanity.”