Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is more than surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners and a most unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is in fact a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must work against time as she infiltrates a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But it soon becomes clear that the Thorold household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets including those of her own past. — Goodreads Description
I’m not really sure what to say about this book, honestly. I’ve been meaning to write this review for, like, five times and I just keep getting distracted. Which summarises my experience with the book in general. It’s not a bad book at all and I enjoyed the plot — the mystery, Mary’s backstory, the bits and bites we got about the Academy, it was all very intriguing. But it wasn’t really engaging. The plot couldn’t really carry it all the way and the characters weren’t fully fleshed.
Yes, we get to know a lot about Mary and even the people she’s sent to, but generally the writing was a bit lacking on the character front. I couldn’t figure out the real relationship between Mary and her schoolteachers — are they friends? Are they authority figures to her? It’s not really clear at all and I think it’s the latter but Mary occasionally uses their first names and that confused me. Then there’s also the fact that I can’t figure out the age difference between them — they have to be quite a bit older than Mary, I should think, but then sometimes it seems like it’s just a handful of years after all — and that detracted from the plot a bit.
Ideally I would’ve liked to read more about the Agency. There was barely anything about it aside from circumstantial information due to Mary’s assignment and a bit of backstory, which I found lacking. If you talk about a fancy school that is used as a cover for lady detectives, I kind of want to read about that. Sure, the story focuses on the assignment but there still could’ve been more?
And considering that there could’ve been more about the Agency, there could’ve been less about the assignment. I’m sure that some cuts here and there wouldn’t have hurt, because it was really dragging at times, especially considering the timeline — two weeks, I believe.
Of course there’s also the token romance, and frankly… I don’t dig it. I’m a giant cynic on canon ships, so take my word with a heap of salt, but it was just so heavyhanded and fake. It didn’t really feel like the characters themselves were into it. They were being written into a corner, and while that corner was occasionally funny and intriguing, it was also very frustrating. I don’t see why Mary would take interest in somebody who constantly insults her, especially after her childhood and the things she’s been through and the school she’s gone to. Girl, you deserve better, occasional non-insulting banter or not.
That said, the book wasn’t horrible. It was interesting with some issues in the character department. I’m intrigued to learn more about Mary’s past and heritage, and whether or not her schoolteachers are secretly lesbians (dear god, PLEASE GIVE ME LESBIANS), so I’ll give the second book in the series a shot. :D