Book Review: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

Series: The Agency, #1
Publication Date: March 9th 2010 by Candlewick
Rating: StarStarStarStarStar |

Summary: Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

Review Overview:

  • Independent, witty, and fierce heroine
  • Charming male protagonist
  • Full of chemistry and unresolved sexual tension – but not a romance novel!
  • Fun historical mystery novel that will have you at the edge of your seat
  • A definite must-read, one of my new favorite series

Mary Lang (or Quinn) is witty, fiery, and independent – everything I love about a female protagonist. She’s brave, fierce, clever, never leaning towards the stereotypes of the Victorian era. I grew to relate with Mary, especially when she uncovered secrets from her past. It was honestly the moment when I thought to myself, Wow this might be my new favorite book. Y.S. Lee has created such a vibrant character that is seriously lacking in today’s YA market. (I’d explain more, but that would be dishing out the book and Mary’s secrets!)

As for the other characters, my first impressions of many of them were negative, but they proved themselves to be worthy characters as the novel progressed. Other than Mary, James Easton would have to be my favorite character. Mary’s accomplice and an accomplished civil engineer, James will not fail to charm readers. His playful banters with Mary are comedic yet full of unresolved sexual tension between the two of them. The book is definitely not a romance, but readers do feel the chemistry between James and Mary start to build.

The writing was fast-paced and fluid. Throughout the whole book, I felt no need to skip over filler sentences because there were none. I am usually guilty of skimming paragraphs due to the plot’s excitement, but I can assure you that I read every word in A SPY IN THE HOUSE. Lee kept me guessing throughout the whole book. I was hooked into the mystery, the time period, the romance. I could not put this book down once I started. And when I did stop (to have dinner), I spent the whole time spacing out thinking about the book. A SPY IN THE HOUSE merged all my favorite aspects of a good novel all into one. This is exactly what I am always looking for.

I cannot wait to get my hands on the next installment on the series. I am always reluctant about sequels and further installments but I don’t think that is going to happen here. It really is too early to say this but I will do it anyway: The Agency Series and Y.S. Lee are my new favorite series and author, respectively. I should point out that a five-star rating is a very very rare thing indeed, so this is one of those few instances where I am going to say: YOU MUST READ THIS ONE.


  1. Just added it to my TBR list. ;D I haven’t heard much about it, but from the way you describe it, I can’t go wrong. I have a total weakness for Victorian-era-anything.

  2. I’ve seen this one a lot on those “Best books you probably missed” lists. And it’s true because I haven’t really read too many reviews on it but every review I read sounds awesome. I’m really loving the characters you described.

  3. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book since I saw that my library put it on it’s shelves, so I’m really happy to hear that you liked it! This really seems like a book that’s been overlooked…which is a shame, because who doesn’t love a strong female heroine with a fast-moving mystery?

  4. Awesome review! I love how you described the characters. I’m looking forward to getting to know them. I heard the next book to be published won’t be out until 2012! So far away :(

  5. After your review for Anna I had to know what your other five star review was, so I came nosing around, lol. I don’t think I’ve actually come across this one, so I’m FOR SURE going to add it to my list after your glowing praise.

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