Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee

Title:  The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower
Author:  Y.S. Lee
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Genre: YA /mystery
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 0763649686
Summary from Indiebound:
Mary Quinn is back, now a trusted member of the Agency, the allfemale detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Her new assignment sends her into the grimy underbelly of Victorian London dressed as a poor boy, evoking her own childhood memories of fear, hunger, and constant want. As she insinuates herself into the confidence of several persons of interest, she encounters others in desperate situations and struggles to make a difference without exposing —or losing —her identity. Mary’s adventure, which takes place on the building site of the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, offers a fictional window into a fascinating historical time and place.
  • Overall rating: 8/10
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Y.S. Lee's The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower is the second book in a series of mystery novels following Mary Quinn, a Victorian girl who was sentenced to death at the age of twelve and was fortunate enough to be rescued by a couple of women who run an exclusive school (as well as a secret investigative agency).  In the first book, The Agency: A Spy in the House, Mary was sent undercover on her first field-training exercise.  (You can read our review of A Spy in the House here.)  The second book begins about a year after the first book ended, when Mary accepts a new undercover assignment.  This time she must pretend to be a young boy in order to secure a job on a construction site where a man was recently found dead.  Not only is her cover story challenging to maintain, but living the day-to-day life of a young boy brings back several of Mary's worst memories of disguising herself as a boy in order to protect herself back when she was a young girl living in poverty.  More danger and more romance, The Body at the Tower is a great addition to the Mary Quinn series!

What I Liked:
-     James Easton!  After the way the first book ended, I wasn't sure how or when James and Mary would manage to cross paths again.  I was thrilled to see more of James in this book!  But his life has become significantly more complex.  His experience in India impaired his health, altered his career trajectory, and essentially knocked some of the wind out of his sails.  I loved that he wasn't exactly the same person he'd been before.  He is now a bit more of a realist who finds himself frustrated by his physical condition, sensitive to being coddled, and quite possibly more stubborn than ever.  But James hasn't lost his sharp wit, his charming grin, or his interest in Mary.
-     There is more opportunity for romance this time around.  Mary is still hiding her history and her occupation, and she is disguised as a grimy twelve year old boy for most of the book, so she and James are not exactly free to openly pursue a romantic relationship with one another, but their chemistry has definitely been kicked up a notch and their banter is even more fun than it was in the first book.
-     Mary is still very easy to like.  She is observant, driven, and struggling to make peace with her history and her heritage in this book.  This undercover assignment is more difficult than her last one.  It is physically taxing, dangerous, and brings her very close to some painful memories that she's successfully avoided confronting for several years.  She is still new to the investigative job and is not beyond making a few mistakes, which only makes her easier to relate to.  We also get to see a few new sides of Mary's personality in her interactions with a young boy working at the same construction site as well as in her dealings with a local reporter who is sniffing around the site looking for details about the suspicious death that Mary is secretly investigating.
-     The Victorian setting still jumps off the page in a clear and realistic way.  Once again, I was impressed by the way Y.S. Lee never relies on overly formal dialogue or long, dry descriptive passages to set the scene.  This time around, Mary is not living in a wealthy business owner's house.  She is living among the poverty-stricken lower class, working on a construction site, and socializing with folks who are inescapably poor.  The protagonist has some very modern sensibilities but the setting feels authentic to the time period, so even readers who don't generally find themselves drawn to historical novels will find it easy to slip into Mary Quinn's world.
-     I look forward to seeing more of Octavius Jones, the gutter-press journalist whose obnoxiousness has a certain amount of charm to it.  He has an easy-going temperament, a light sense of humor, and an insightful kind of fondness for Mary.  You have the feeling he is much more observant than he lets on and he appears to see the world through opportunistic lenses that view everything in shades of grey.  That attitude provides an interesting contrast to James' black and white sense of ethics.  I'm curious to see what will happen when Mary and Octavius encounter one another again.
-     Anne and Felicity play more interesting rolls in this book.  They don't always see eye to eye about what is best for The Agency, and I imagine we will see that issue continue to simmer between them as the series continues.
-     This particular case has a conclusive resolution, but Mary still has a lot of challenges to face personally and professionally. I look forward to reading the third book and seeing how the next chapter of her life plays out.

What I Liked Less:
-     As in many mystery novels, coincidences run a bit rampant and characters frequently find themselves in just the right place at just the right time.
-     The mystery elements were not nearly as compelling as Mary's own character development or her relationship with James.  I don't mean to say that the mystery is boring or predictable, it isn't.  I just found myself interested in how the dangers of the case affected Mary and not particularly intrigued by the who/why/how of the crime she was investigating.

The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower is a fun Victorian mystery with a clever heroine and a lovely dash of romance.  This book could be read as a standalone, but I would highly recommend reading the A Spy in the House first.  Fans of historical mysteries or historical romances should pick up this series.  It is a very quick and accessible read with enjoyable characters, so even readers who generally aren't drawn to historical novels should give this series a try.  I look forward to reading the third Agency book, The Traitor and the Tunnel.  If you would like to learn more about The Agency 2: The Body at the Tower or Y.S. Lee's other books, visit her website, facebook, & twitter.


Staci said...

victorian YA mystery series?? Sounds great and I'm glad you reviewed it as I've not even heard of the series!!!

Scoot said...

I have never heard of this series, but it sounds interesting! I will have to check them out. Also, you won an award! Check it out here:

Cleverly Inked said...

I always seem to stumble upon great ones here