Emily's Reviews > A Spy in the House

A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
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's review
Mar 18, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, mystery, online-book-group, outside-u-s-a, ya-fiction
Read in March, 2012

Why I picked it up: I was interested in the idea of a woman spy in 19th-century London. One of my online book groups chose it for their March read; I believe I nominated it.

When Mary is 12, she is sentenced to hanging because she broke into a house to steal. She is rescued by a woman who runs a school for girls. Fast forward 5 years. Mary has graduated from the school and is now teaching, but she doesn't care for teaching. She learns that the school also includes The Agency, a group of women spies who pose as ladies' companions or governesses to gather information to solve cases. Mary must spy on a rich merchant's family suspected of smuggling.

I liked it. I find the concept not particularly believable, as there seem to be a lot of 21st century sensibilities in the 19th century, but it's fun and enjoyable and the mystery was decent. (For the record, that women of that time period to be underestimated and therefore have the capacity to be successful as spies, I do not doubt.) I was frustrated at the lack of author's note at the end. Maybe I'm spoiled, but I want to know what part of my historical fiction was real and what part wasn't. I know there was no Agency, but was the Thames really particularly stinky in 1858? Were 12-year-olds really hung for stealing? And a map of the area would have been handy, too, as I do not know various areas of London, present-day or past. I did really like that (view spoiler)

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