(Original review posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/31710.html)Why I Read It:
I've heard great things about this series around the YA blogosphere and it sounds kind of fun: Victorian England, mystery, teenaged spies!! So when I found it in the kobo store for $2.99, I couldn't resist picking it up. It sat unread in my kobo for awhile, but I had plenty of time to read while on vacation, so read it I did. :)
You know when you read a book and you feel completely and totally ambivalent about it and then you go to write a review and you really don't know what to write? That's how I feel right now. Now, I didn't DISLIKE the book, but this was definitely a case of Like Not Love, so I apologize in advance if this review is really vague.
I think I'll go over each aspect of the book individually: characters, plot, and writing and just make some general comments.
So, the characters. Mary Quinn is definitely a strong and able heroine, though she's not without her flaws. While she's incredibly intelligent, she's also a little too quick to action and takes matters into her own hands when they should left in more able ones. I mostly liked Mary. She's fairly well-rounded and she's never completely UNlikable. She has some moments with James when I kind of wanted to shake her, but they were few and far between. The romance between her and James was above par, and there were some moments that had me chuckling a bit (like when she punches him in the face -- that was funny), but the two drove me nuts sometimes. I'm also glad these two didn't have a Happily Ever After, but it wasn't a tragic affair either when they kind of had to end things. The one thing that was kind of disappointing about Mary (for me), was that I already knew a pretty important detail about her that's kept secret for a good chunk of the book so that when it was finally revealed, I was surprised that I wasn't supposed to know that already. But that's obviously by no fault of the author.
As for side-characters, we have the family that Mary is assigned to spy on. Angela, coming from a rich family and all, was obviously a brat and she treats Mary pretty horribly at some points (though there's a bit of a bigger reason behind WHY she's mean to her that you don't find out about until later), and while they don't dislike each other by the end of the novel, they're not BFFs either, which I kind of liked -- it felt more realistic. There are a few other supporting characters, but I don't want to say too much about them at the risk of giving too much away.
The plot of the story is I think where the Like (as opposed to Love) really comes in. It's a mystery, which is nice to see in YA because there's not a whole lot of it, but it's kind of slow moving. Mary has a bit of a hard time finding out clues in regards to assignment, and while she IS finding things throughout the course of the plot that later become important, they don't feel important at the time, thus they feel trivial, thus the plot itself feels kind of trivial and tedious. It WAS kind of neat how a lot of things came together in the end though -- I just wish it had been slightly more exciting getting to that point. Thankfully though, the mystery was not ridiculously easy to solve. Like I said, there are clues peppered here and there that get to cranks turning, but it never felt obvious to me.
One of my other niggles at the plot was the issue of suspending my disbelief, mostly in regards to The Academy. See, it's run by two principals who also run an all-girls school where they foster these women to be independent and educated. While all this is well and good, it's also just a vehicle and kind of cheap plot device to make it plausible to have a character like Mary Quinn: a girl who goes against societal expectations of what women are expected to do and be capable of. BUT, it does make for fun and light reading, and I'm all for girls wanting to be independent and to NOT want to be housewives or teachers or whatever.
As for the writing, it's nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done. It's very transparent and to the point which is perfectly fine for this kind of story, so overall, no complaints.Final Judgment:
I'm not exactly sure why, but this book was a Like Not Love reading affair. However, don't let that deter you from reading this, because it really is a fun and fairly breezy read. It's got a pretty cool heroine and she has a pretty cool love interest, and their romance was mostly cute and fun to watch even if I wanted to shake the two of them sometimes. The plot itself is a fun mystery that never felt super obvious to me, but I found it a little slow-moving in the beginning. However, all the small little details that felt trivial at first DO become important later on, so it wasn't all for nothing. While I found the idea of The Academy fun, it also felt kind of like a cheap plot device to make Mary more forward thinking than people from her time would typically be, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book either. I recommend this to those are looking for a fun historical fiction YA.