The Agency Series by Y.S Lee
Mary Lang is a twelve-year old, half-chinese, half-irish London ragamuffin about to be hanged for thieving when she is offered the chance of a new life at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. The Academy is an unusual institution run by two very different young ladies, Ann Treleaven, a prim, thirty-ish spinster and Felicity Frame. The students at the academy are trained in useful occupations and learn to be independent. However, if the life of a governess or nurse does not suit them, and if they have the aptitude for such work, the students have another option – to become a member for the Agency, an all-women spy, well, Agency.
With their aid, Mary transforms herself into Mary Quinn, choosing to hide her Chinese ancestry and pass as only half-irish to explain her dark, exotic looks. When the time comes for her to seek employment outside the school, uninspired with the dull like of a governess, she chooses to join the Agency.
And thus begins a series of mysterious adventures. Along the way, she meets her romantic foil, James Easton, a young engineer.
Although the mysteries are a little too predictable, the relationship between Mary and James is pitch perfect, reminiscent of the best Victorian-era romantic mysteries for adults: The Lady Julia Grey mysteries, Amelia Peabody and of course, who can forget Ms. Alexia Tarabotti in the Parasol Protectorate.
These were great fun, with a clear and intriguing view of London, from the everyday workings of a middle class family, to the re-building of parliament to Queen Victoria herself. In fact, I especially enjoyed Lee’s portrayal of the latter, as a fierce leader and loving mother.
Pair this up with Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries, Shane Peacock’s Young Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series.
Wow. I just realised that I might enjoy this genre much more than I realised…