21 July 2014

The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee

Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.

Queen Victoria has a little problem: there's a petty thief at work in Buckingham Palace. Charged with discretion, the Agency puts quick-witted Mary Quinn on the case, where she must pose as a domestic while fending off the attentions of a feckless Prince of Wales. But when the prince witnesses the murder of one of his friends in an opium den, the potential for scandal looms large. And Mary faces an even more unsettling possibility: the accused killer, a Chinese sailor imprisoned in the Tower of London, shares a name with her long-lost father. Meanwhile, engineer James Easton, Mary's onetime paramour, is at work shoring up the sewers beneath the palace, where an unexpected tunnel seems to be very much in use. Can Mary and James trust each other (and put their simmering feelings aside) long enough to solve the mystery and protect the Royal Family? Hoist on your waders for Mary's most personal case yet, where the stakes couldn't be higher - and she has everything to lose.

How do I even go about describing a series that has taken me by such surprise?  Surprise because I even picked it up, when I had half-decided to give it a pass based on the covers alone, and surprise because I not only picked it up, but loved it so much that I read the first book, then the second, and now the third within a mere few weeks?  The Traitor in the Tunnel fell perfectly in line behind the first two books, sticking out only in its more polished writing style and more engaging plot.  Yet still there is the fiery and cheer-worthy main character, the uber-charming romance, and the world of Victorian England brought stunningly to life.

What has remained my favorite thing about this series is the romance.  I don't think I've said that about any series, ever.  But the two sides of this romantic duo -- the charmingly stubborn Mary Quinn and the equally charming but frustrating James Easton -- have so enchanted me that it makes me wonder whether this series is secretly a fantasy and has bewitched me.  These two, despite their constant squabbling (and definitely maybe because of their squabbling), are so unlike any other romantic couple I've seen in YA lately.  They were more platonic first and their romance followed after.  Y.S. Lee laughs at instalove.

This is a mystery series, yet the mystery isn't the centerpiece of the experience for me.  With A Spy in the House and The Body at the Tower, the mystery definitely took a back seat.  Mostly because I didn't really get it and so wasn't very interested in it.  With the mystery in The Traitor in the Tunnel, however, I got it.  It wasn't a mystery that you could piece together yourself, so the revealing of the "whodunnit" didn't illicit any sort of "oh snap!" reaction from me.  And even though I didn't see the connection between a few things, I understood what was going on and what was at stake.

I have definitely seen an improvement in the writing since the first book.  The style isn't flowery or choppy, but distinctive and it felt as though Y.S. Lee was more comfortable with what she was doing.  So the details of the landscape -- seriously, where's the Doctor to come take me to Victorian London? -- seemed more solid, and the steady voice of Mary Quinn a bit smoother.

What I can't fathom is why there is only one more book!  I see the potential for many more adventures and trysts between Mary and James a never ending amount of mysteries.  (I deflate even as I say it.  I know that not every series goes as long as Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires series.)  Yet only four books seems like a disservice to readers everywhere.  Maybe Y.S. Lee is trying to shore up her stores of cleverness and clandestine romances for another series... If we're so lucky!

If you haven't picked up on this series yet, I would heartily recommend you give it a go.  If not for me, then do it for Mary and James.  They're worth it.

Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, had a lamp shade on her head.  Again.

Book Info
  • pages - hardcover, 373
  • published - February 2012
  • publisher - Candlewick Press
  • genre - historical fiction
  • received via - library :)
  • rating - 5/5
  • series - The Agency
    • A Spy in the House | Review
    • The Body at the Tower | Review
    • The Traitor in the Tunnel