Summary: After her father is lost at sea and her mother dies, Mary Lang is left to fend for herself in 1850s London, England. Arrested and sentenced to hang, Mary is rescued by Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls and educated to be a lady. But the Academy is also the home of the Agency, a spy collective made up of well educated women and young ladies. When Mary is given the opportunity to be a part of the Agency, she takes it and quickly finds herself working as a companion to Angelica, a young woman from a rich family whose father may be involved in clandestine business affairs. Charged with finding out the truth about Mr. Thorold, Mary’s first assignment is filled with many surprises, including a love interest and information about her own secret past.
Number of Pages: 335
Age Range: 13-15
Review: A Spy in the House by YS Lee is a captivating start to The Agency series. Mary is fiercely independent and is able to recognise potential in others. She’s not just a member of the Agency by the end of the book, she’s also a recruiter with Cass. I wonder if the future books might feature them working together.
Lee presents her with a unique idea: a female-based spy agency operating in the mid 1800s, providing a place of belonging for girls and women who don’t fit into the socially acceptable norms of the time. Instead, Lee’s book is filled with strong female characters, and even if they aren’t always likeable they’re not afraid to be who they are and do what they want.
Combining a well-paced, dramatic mystery and a mild romance, female readers will be engaged in Mary’s story. I was intrigued by her mixed race heritage and how she fears others will dismiss her if they ever find out about it. Even though she is a multi-talented young woman she still has doubts about her abilities and has to grow into the role of being a spy despite several acts that display her bravery and single-minded determination to do her job. Mary’s a wonderful role model, and I look forward to seeing how she develops throughout the series.
“Again, Anne appeared unsurprised by the question, the rudeness. ‘As I explained before, our aim is to offer girls an independent life. Too many women feel forced to marry; even more lack that choice and resort to prostitution, or worse, in order to survive. We believe that a sound education will assist our graduates to support themselves.’ She paused. ‘Not all our pupils succeed. Some girls prefer the idea of marriage hard work, not realizing that marriage to a brute or a drunkard is more difficult than any profession. But they choose their paths. We cannot force our ideas upon our pupils.'” – Anne Treleaven from The Agency: A Spy in the House by YS Lee, pages 7-8
“Mary drew a deep breath and focused on Angelica’s situation. ‘I think,’ she said carefully, ‘that there are some women for whom marriage and children are the most important objects in life. But I think there are others who long for more. Your unhappiness reminds me of that sort of need.'” – Mary talking to Angelica about marriage from The Agency: A Spy in the House by YS Lee, page 251