My Rating: 3.75/5 Stars
The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y. S. Lee
Mary Quinn goes undercover once again to discover who’s been stealing from Queen Victoria.
The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y. S. Lee follows spy Mary Quinn to Buckingham Palace, where Quinn must solve the mystery of stolen royal goods. This book is the third installment in Lee’s Agency Quartet.
When items start to go missing in the palace, the Agency is contracted to discover the thief, discreetly. Posing as a maid in the palace, Mary Quinn endeavors to discover the culprit, but with a strict no-gossip rule, finds herself at a dead end. When a murder occurs, with scandal surrounding the Prince of Wales, it’s up to Mary to get to the bottom of it. To make matters worse, the potential murderer is none other than Mary’s long lost father. Things only get more complicated when Mary learns that her old flame, James Easton, has also been assigned to a discreet assignment: to update the palace’s sewer system, meaning another potential encounter, one which she isn’t ready for. With complications surrounding her, will Mary overcome her most difficult case yet?
This is probably my favorite book in the Agency series so far. Lee is a master at weaving stories together, and Mary’s personal struggles that she must deal with clash with her job as a spy, leading to high stakes and great tension, which all proves to be an excellent story.
I love that Lee has brought the intrigue and period splendor of Victorian England together with the issues of being mixed race. Mary is such a fascinating character: part Chinese but passing as white in order to survive. Lee uses this novel to address England’s less than favorable stance towards foreigners and the discriminations that Mary has been dodging come at her full force in this novel through her discovery of her father, a Lascar. This book is so compelling and Lee as at her best when delving into Mary’s psyche, deepening her character and creating an opportunity for Mary to grow.
As always, Lee is a master of setting an historical scene. From her writing, her familiarity with Victorian era England is clear. I felt completely immersed in this setting. Not only is the dialogue spot on, but so are the descriptions of palace life and attitudes of the time. This series is worth reading for the historical drama alone.
Literary Value: 4/5
As I said in the previous section, Lee’s handling of the time period is spot on and her writing is impeccable. One of my favorite things about this book is the dialogue between characters. Lee matches the tone of whatever class she’s writing for perfectly and it feels just like I’m watching a PBS/BBC drama unfolding before my eyes.
I love the banter between Mary and James. One of Lee’s strongest skills is writing witty dialogue and Mary and James are her two best characters she’s created. The amount of depth each character has is wonderful, and in this book, their relationship grows immensely. Other YA authors should take note of Lee because her romance writing is one of the best I’ve come across.
Lastly, I want to touch on plot. One of the things I like about the Agency books is that the mystery never seems to far-fetched or clichéd. This installment is no different. In fact, it’s even more complex because with every turn, Mary comes across another complication that opens up a different mystery for her to solve. The storyline propels you forward and there is no slow moment and I definitely didn’t solve the mystery before the big reveal, which is always a good sign for a mystery book.
Entertainment Factor: 4/5
I really enjoyed reading this book. I fell into Mary’s world immediately and it was such a great historical adventure. I really love this series and Mary is one of my favorite literary characters. She’s a badass and a spy in the Victorian era – I mean, how cool is that? This book gave Mary so many opportunities to use her skills and to show her strengths and her weaknesses without overpowering or diminishing her character. It was a healthy balance and the story seemed very real because of it.
The only thing that was a bit outlandish was involving Queen Victoria in the mystery. I can’t reveal too much here without giving away part of the mystery, but I’ll just say that while Lee is excellent at writing with historical accuracy, she took a few liberties that, if I weren’t a fan of the series would probably have irked me. That being said, it was just a small portion and I completely allow it because I enjoyed myself despite it.
Cover Art Rating: 3/5
I’m going by the original cover for this series. There’s since been a reprint which I believe was an attempt to make the series more modern and appealing, but it’s not that much better. I don’t particularly like when covers use images of real or realistically drawn people. I don’t want a pre-existing image of the characters in my head determining what the characters look like for me. With this cover, Mary is being depicted and it takes away any image I might have created myself. While I understand their desire to depict the dress and style of the era, I just don’t care for seeing someone who’s supposed to be Mary. If she were turned away or if the image were a cut out, that might be better.
Otherwise, the cover suits the period and the style of the book’s contents, so I can’t find fault for that. It’s a bit boring in itself and there’s nothing to draw you in. The image of a Victorian maid isn’t much to go on as far as the story’s concerned. If I were to see this book on the shelf in a bookstore, I wouldn’t be that drawn to it.
Overall Rating: 3.75/5
This is such an enjoyable book! The mystery is really well written, the setting is realistic, and the characters are so complex and interesting. Mary really shines as a hero in this book. I love that Lee gives Mary the time to deal with her own demons, to face her weaknesses, and also show her strength. It makes her character that much more compelling and it’s one of the highlights of this novel. I especially love that this series offers up a mixed-race main character and that racial tensions are addressed in this book. Not only is it rare for a YA novel to have a bi-racial character (in this case, Mary is half Chinese, half Irish), it’s also rare that that character to be a main character. It’s also fantastic that it has these qualities and it’s also well written.
If you love Victorian drama, royalties, or a good mystery, this book is definitely for you.
Open discussion below!
Let me know what you think! If you’ve read Traitor in the Tunnel or any of the Agency books, share your thoughts!
Are you thinking of starting this series? Are you going to pass on this one? Tell me all about it in the comments. And, as always keep up the reading!