Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review (T2T): The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee

The Agency, Book 2 (Book One review here)

**Note: slight, minor spoilers for Book One, but nothing earth-shattering or life-ruining, yup**

Tags: YA, historical fiction, mystery, Victorian London, suspense


Orphan Mary Quinn works for the Agency, a secret spy organization run by and employing entirely woman. Her latest assignment has her disguised as a 12-year-old boy at the construction site of a clock tower near Parliament, investigating a mysterious death and the site’s overall generally bad reputation. Mary is skilled at her “trade,” but she finds being a boy harder than she expects when it brings back long-suppressed memories of her rough childhood.

To make matters worse—or better, in some instances—James, her old flame, has returned from India, changed in some ways, yet exactly the same in others. Will Mary be able to balance all the different parts of her life while she does her job, or will something have to fall—literally?


The first book in this series, A Spy in the House, was a solidly entertaining and well-researched historical mystery, but this second installment, THE BODY AT THE TOWER, throws me into fangirl zone. THE BODY AT THE TOWER, is off-the-charts incredible for its genre, a Victorian London mystery that is sure to please old and new fans.

All of Y. S. Lee’s writing strengths return in full force in this worthy sequel: from character development, to exquisitely immersing historical details, to a sizzling romance. All of the details about the Victorian era never feel forced or extravagant: readers will find it easy to fall into the gritty London that Mary inhabits, while learning incredible things about the Victorian era along the way.

The richness of the setting is matched well by the playful banter between Mary and James, banter that I described as Austen-worthy in my review of the first book, a sentiment that I heartily return to now. Sure, maybe it’s wish fulfillment in a number of ways—James is a self-described arrogant and persistent man—but damn if the pages didn’t nearly catch on fire while I was reading their banter. This is a strong-minded couple that doesn’t have it easy, but they certainly have chemistry.

Lee introduces new characters almost effortlessly, while simultaneously further exploring Mary’s conflicts with her heritage and childhood. Sure, minor characters help move the plot forward or give the MCs necessary information, but in THE BODY AT THE TOWER they acquire the possibility for life outside the story. And Mary is not just your average inexplicably competent female detective, but rather a young woman with demons of her own.

I’m not a big historical fiction OR mystery fan, but this series is one of my favorites, and probably my favorite historical mystery series. Well-written, eye-opening, and entertaining, you will dive in and be immersed immediately. THE BODY AT THE TOWER proves that Y. S. Lee is a rising star, and hasn’t even reached her peak yet. I am on tenterhooks awaiting the third book, and more after that from this incredible author!

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Plot: 5/5

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - Personally I don't see Mary ever having occasion to dress like that, and I see her slightly different--more feisty, perhaps?--but I certainly appreciate the enormous effort Candlewick goes to to make sure Mary is represented accurately on the cover. Bravo, Candlewick!

Candlewick / Aug. 10, 2010 / Hardcover / 352pp. / $16.99

ARC sent by publisher for a Traveling to Teens tour. Check out the other blog stops on the tour below!

Mon. 8/2 - Kristi (The Story Siren)
Tues. 8/3 - Kristen (Bookworming in the 21st Century)
Wed. 8/4 - Sarah GreenBeanTeenQueen
Thurs. 8/5 - Lizzy (Cornucopia of Reviews)
Fri. 8/6 - Ari (Reading in Color)
Mon. 8/9 - Mariah L
Tues. 8/10 - Steph Su
Wed. 8/11 - Cecilia (The Epic Rat)
Thurs. 8/12 - Laura (Laura’s Review Bookshelf)
Fri. 8/13 - The Book Smugglers

Stay tuned in a few hours for a guest post from the magnificent author Ying herself!


[ETA] OH, and HOW DID I FORGET that TODAY (August 10) is The Body at the Tower's release date? Huzzah! Hoorah! Congrats! *pops champagne and sprinkles all over Ying, who is thousands of miles away* Now you can run out and get this book immediately (or tell your local bookstores to stock it)!


  1. ~not reading review because I would get spoiled~

    I ordered book one in this series this week and cannot wait to read! I have heard SO MANY good things.

  2. How have I missed this series? It sounds totally up my alley and sort of like Philip Pullman's Sally Lockhart books, which I totally devoured as a child.


  3. Yay!!! I LOVED the first book, and I can't wait to order this one tomorrow.

  4. Wow! I couldn't wait to read The Body at the Tower before but after reading your review, you make me want to rush to the bookstore to get it first thing. I loved the bantering between Mary and James in the first novel, so I'm so so glad it's back again in this one! :)

  5. Wow, I was a bit skeptical about this series, but I've been reading positive reviews about it, and now I can't wait to read it!

    Great review!

  6. Oooh, I am all over this series! I remember seeing your review for the first book and it's definitely been on my radar.

  7. Thanks for the dazzling review, Steph! I'm so thrilled you loved it. Just a quick note about MQ's very fancy costume on the cover: Caroline Lawrence, the designer, based it on the scene in which Mary dresses up as a do-gooding upper-class lady.


Hello! I'm so excited to read what you have to say. Due to high amounts of spam, I'm forced to disabled anonymous comments for the time being. Sorry for any inconvenience this causes, and I hope you can understand and still appreciate the content here!


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