A review of the second instalment of Y.S. Lee’s YA historical mystery series. Today, we’re trying out a new format!
Historical Setting: Victorian London (1859 to be precise)
Appearances by Historical Personalities: None
Historical Events Covered: The building of the Houses of Parliament
(Un)Timely Dialogue: “Where the hell do you think you are? Little Lord Fauntleroy’s nursery school?”
Little Lord Fauntleroy is the title character of a children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It’s about a poor American boy who, thanks to some convenient deaths, winds up as heir to an English nobleman. While I didn’t mean to look for inconsistencies, while checking Wikipedia, I saw that it was first published in 1885, so I think this line might be an anachronistic oopsie. Please correct me if I’m wrong!
Which Historical Personality Is This Book?
In keeping with English history, call it King George II. I don’t know much about him besides being stuck between two other Georges (Number 1 being the first Hanoverian King of England and Number 3 being the famous Mad King). This book feels like a tweener. It’s not the debut of the series, and there are many elements that feel open-ended, setting up the next book in the series.
I loved the first book in The Agency series, A Spy in the House, so I was eager to dive into The Body at the Tower. A YA historical fiction, this story is primarily a murder mystery. When unstoppable killing machine bricklayer John Wick is found dead on the building site of the future Houses of Parliament, home of Big Ben, Mary Quinn is sent by the Agency to investigate. Only she’ll be doing it as Mark Quinn, apprentice bricklayer.
Compared to its predecessor, there was a definite improvement in pacing. The stakes were higher without being hyperbolic. Mary’s snooping puts her at risk if the killer finds out. I quite enjoy the grounded nature of Mary’s adventures compared to other books in YA. Mary is also a more active protagonist this time around, as befits someone progressing to a regular field agent.
I was very happy that a long-expected reunion took place very early on in the book. It was blatantly telegraphed in the first book, so it was good to bring this up quickly and not tease the reader with false suspense. Despite the heavily coincidental nature of the meeting, it felt natural because, as a reader, I really wanted it to happen.
While the murder mystery narrative was tightly plotted and worked well, less successful were a few dangling threads. As Mary meets another young girl who probes her about her past, I was reminded of the character she’d saved and recruited to her agency’s cover school in the first book.set on a path to the agency. What happened to her? And the subplot about Mary’s heritage felt abruptly forgotten. I certainly hope supporting characters from this and the first novel return in future instalments. There’s strong potential for the author to build a world similar to Holmes’s London, with regular (or should it be “irregular”) allies and adversaries.
In rating this book, I feel like it should be given more than the 4 stars I gave A Spy in the House, as the writing has improved. However, unfairly or not, I judged this one by a higher standard. Since I don’t feel like using fractions smaller than 1/2, due to rounding, The Body at the Tower also gets a 4 out of 5.
My rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)