This read like a dream. Yes, I said it. Now if you are anything like me and your bibliophilic life started with raunchy mills and boons (Australian an...moreThis read like a dream. Yes, I said it. Now if you are anything like me and your bibliophilic life started with raunchy mills and boons (Australian and Kiwi editions) and then widened to include historical romance (which were just as raunchy but did teach me a lot about Bonaparte) you will have some level of familiarity with historical novels boasting of a strong heroine and an intriguing hero. This, I hasten to add, is not to imply that The Agency is a romance novel. Oh no, far from it. Or that there are heaving bosoms involved…well, there might be but they’re certainly not the heroine’s. Anyway, what I’m trying to say, albeit not very well, is that first book in the trilogy asserts its position not just as a YA Historical fiction (rare in its genre) but as, dare I say it, brilliant YA Historical fiction.
Let me count the reasons I say this.
There is a fluidity in Ms. Lee’s writing that, quite frankly, grips you by the collar and jerks you into the novel and holds you captive and enthralled until you are unaware of the time that has passed and the work that you have left undone. Her writing is on par with authors that have several novels under their belt and there is no sense of awkwardness in her prose that is so common with debuting authors. You have to love smooth writing, you guys.
Her characterizations are bloody awesome. Mary Quinn is by no means perfect and it is her imperfections that, ironically, make her perfect. The beginning grips you with the bleakness of her fortune, with the depths of despair that have led her to that point and the ending leaves you bemused by the distance she has traveled within the scope of the book alone. I like the fact that Mary is human enough to be relatable to me. That she can give in to human vanity and despite having had to grow up so fast, still retain that sense of childishness, that intrinsic immaturity that is so common to people of her age. Not that I mean anything negative by that. It’s just that she reads like the teenager she is despite being put in a situation where she could have been written like a woman in her twenties. I like that.
James Easton is delicious as the unwilling hero of the tale. Not that he takes over the tale entirely. No. We see glimpses of the story through his eyes and what this does is deepen our appreciation of Mary and the entire novel. James is not as fleshed out as Mary is but that’s okay. He is defined enough that you can, through his unwilling fascination with Mary Quinn, structure the hierarchy in the story and place the social status of the various characters. He also spices up the narrative because the romantic tension between him and Mary Quinn is enough to make a girl swoon.
The other characters are also interestingly hewed. I love it when the author spends enough time to create original characters no matter how small their part in the narrative is instead of using stereotyped, stock characters. This shows that the author has imagined the world she has created down to the last detail. And furthermore, that she respects the intelligence of her readers.
The narrative brings up some very interesting points. The role of women in the society at the time the novel is set in is one of the things discussed. Their limited freedom and the stereotypes they lived under. And what breaking away from these stereotypes and expectations would mean to a woman. What interested me more than that, however, is Mary’s internal conflict about her mixed heritage. In fact, this is one of the most interesting things about the novel. How she addresses these issues and whether they will influence the manner in which she lives her life and the decisions she makes for the future is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the next two books in the trilogy.
So the verdict? Read the book. It has everything a good book needs and is everything a wonderful book should be. I recommend it to everyone who likes good literature.(less)
Okay, this is going to be short because really there are only a few things I want to say about this novel.
1. I loved it. Really, really loved it. Mar...moreOkay, this is going to be short because really there are only a few things I want to say about this novel.
1. I loved it. Really, really loved it. Mary confronts the skeletons in her closet . The book takes a somber look at the people who sire us and how their mortality and morality affect us. This gives Mary new depths and she evolves much more as a character. 2. The kisses are smoking hot. My toes curled multiple times. It’s quite a feat since I wasn’t even the one being kissed. 3. Lee’s portrayal of Victorian (I believe it is Victorian, I could be totally wrong) is so spot on. Her wordsmithery remains impressive and I believe her plotting has actually improved. 4. James is awesomesauce and that’s all I am going to say about it. Actually no, as hot as he is, it is his humanity and his flaws that make him irresistible. His vulnerability where Mary is concerned is also endearing. 5. You need to read this series because if you don’t, you are losing out. I don’t want you to lose out.
This was intense. This was good. This was fantastic. And I don’t say this often. Let’s be honest here. In a series, the books can’t all hold your inte...moreThis was intense. This was good. This was fantastic. And I don’t say this often. Let’s be honest here. In a series, the books can’t all hold your interest. Sometimes they are better, sometimes they are worst but truly, after three books, I still love Flora as much as I loved her in the first book. It’s rare for me. The world Wilce has created is so vibrant, so alive and populated with such interesting characters that it rivals the Potter universe in terms of amazingness. We see a lot more of the world Flora lives in in this book and it is all (and more) than I expected it to be.
We are also introduced to new intriguing characters, the most intriguing of them being a bear who brings in romantic entanglements into the playing field. We see Flora raging, making decisions in split seconds, looking for answers in places she thought she wouldn’t have to and meeting the mother she thought she never would. The tension and danger in the novel is exacerbated in this novel as the stakes are much higher. The politics is rife and taut with an impending war that no one will deny is going to happen.
Flora’s relationship with the mother she grew up with goes through a series of metamorphoses and I really like where it ends up. I also liked the decisions Flora makes even though they are not always the smartest. The Bear is an intriguing love interest and though Flora’s vacillations where Udo is concerned is rather vexing, I can’t deny that some of it he brings on to himself. While it is sad how their relationship unravels, it makes me wonder who Flora will end up with considering the whole thing that happens between Udo and her. Maybe her sacrifice will make their relationship better in the end – I don’t know. But I am willing to find out.
This brings me to my other point. The series is being marketed as a trilogy. However, after the last book, I cannot see it as one as there are way too many threads left open, there are too many what-ifs and what-nows for it to have ended. So fingers crossed that the series continues. As for whether I recommend this series, do you really need to ask?(less)
So I just wrote a shorter version of this review for reasons I will reveal later. And while I was writing that, I remembered just how much I love this...moreSo I just wrote a shorter version of this review for reasons I will reveal later. And while I was writing that, I remembered just how much I love this novel. I think I may love this one as much as I loved Seraphina. And you know what that means? I’m going to have to buy a hardcover copy and get Maureen Fergus to sign it for me. Now, I don’t even know whether she’ll be making any appearances in Vancouver but if she is, I’m going.
Anyway, let’s talk about this book because it is the reason I am holding on to your attention. If you like strong heroines who are flawed and behave in flawed ways sometimes, then you will like Persephone. Persephone is nothing like the Greek goddess (of Spring) she shares a name with. She is a slave and her thoughts are naturally preoccupied with a desire for freedom in the true sense of the word. I cannot pretend to know what it means to not own one’s own person but I can empathize with her feelings. Fergus creates a vibrant world where Gypsies are hunted and killed simply because of who they are. This genocide is a contemporary issue and Fergus does not dress it up prettily or try to excuse it. She portrays the horror of a people who are being eradicated through no fault of their own. Azriel is a gypsy who, with all his charm, buys Persephone from her owner. Not that she thanks him for it, of course.
Their relationship is engaging, fun and complex. The romance is present but it doesn’t take over the narrative. In fact, Persephone’s feelings are deliciously ambiguous and I get the feeling that if she had to choose between Azriel and her freedom, she would choose the latter. There is a prophecy (that Persephone snorts rudely at) and there are animals who are blindly devoted to Persephone. Her eccentricities and flaws make her into a likeable character despite some of her more dubious decisions. (Keep in mind, these decisions are not stupid and nothing damning.)
All the characters present in the novel are individuated and have their own personalities. The courtly intrigues and the young king who is very interested in Persephone spice of the narrative significantly. The villain of the piece is a most intriguing character. He is deformed but for he has a beautiful face and it is his desire to be whole again that motivates his actions. He is one of the creepiest and yet saddest villains I have come across in literature recently. He is dangerous because he doesn’t seem to have a conscience that separates good and bad, and his greed for power at any cost, but at the same time, he is completely vulnerable due to his deformity. I have a feeling that he may not be the villain in the end because he is a bit too easily deceived. No, I think it is the captain of the guards who will become most dangerous for the protagonists of the piece.
The novel is gorgeous written, the pacing is quick and keeps the reader’s interest and the plot turns and twists in the most unpredictable ways. I was literally shocked at the end because I did not expect the novel to go where it did. And it went there in a good way. It takes all expectations and shakes it around and presents to you in a shape you didn’t think it came in. There is friendship between girls, a sisterhood of sorts, and a positive portrayal of women. Themes of identity, physical beauty and perhaps even love are present in the novel. Fergus has created a complex world peopled with complex characters that battle both inner demons and physical enemies in their attempt to right so many wrongs. Questions of duty versus desire will have to be answered. What is freedom? Can a person ever be totally free? I don’t know but I am looking forward to finding out how Persephone’s story unfolds. Do I recommend this? Really, I have to spell it out?
Okay fine. I recommend this strong. Go read it.(less)