by Marie-Louise Jensen
I'm taking a break this month and next from writing about my own research, to write instead about a couple of my fellow authors whose books have inspired me.
Today, I want to take a look at three books by Canadinan author Y. S. Lee, who will be writing one or two guest posts for the History Girls over the next few months. It seems appropriate to introduce her to you.
I first came across Lee when I was sent a copy of her teen debut The Agency: A Spy in the House to review for Write Away. I liked the look of the cover straight away. But reading the author's biography, I wondered about an author born in Singapore, later living in Toronto and Vancouver writing about Victorian London. Would she know London well enough to capture the atmosphere? But Lee did a PhD in Victorian literature and culture and lived for a spell in London. She knows her background. Perhaps it's true as well, that sometimes a visitor can see a place more clearly than those who live in it every day.
Whatever may be the case, Victorian London comes alive in A Spy in the House. The choking stench of the Great Stink catches in your throat as you read. Both the squalid hopelessness of the poor and the oppresive luxury of the wealthy merchant class comes alive. And quite apart from the great world creation, the premise of a secret all-female spy agency, a mixed-heritage protagonist and a mystery to solve makes for a fabulous storyline.
Mary Quinn is a strong and courageous female protagonist. She never flinches from danger, she can fight and climb and disobeys orders when she thinks she knows better. And she wouldn't dream of giving it all up for love. Even though love definitely comes knocking. In fact it was the romance that made the book really stand out for me: I have a real soft spot for a love story. And this one was passionate, stormy and surpising.
I didn't think the sequel, The Body at the Tower, could possibly live up to the first book. But it did so with ease. Set on and around the building site of St Stephen's Tower (a fascinating story in itself) it was as atmospheric and intriguing as the first book, and at the same time quite different. Another great mystery and more fiery romance.
The third novel The Traitor and The Tunnel is set in the palace with Mary Quinn as a servant to the Royal family. The Agency is in trouble and as well as uncovering a dangerous plot, Mary fears for her own future.
I highly recommend these books to everyone who might enjoy a great teen mystery/romance. They haven't yet reached the audience they deserve in the UK, though the first book won a prize in Canada and was shortlisted for two others.
I am currently reading/rereading: