The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is 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 infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the 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.
From Y.S. Lee:
Hello! It’s such a pleasure to be back at Rebecca’s Book Blog with the 7th of 8 guest posts I’m making as part of the T2T blog tour. As an ex-professor and writer of historical fiction, my theme is Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Victorians. Yesterday, I talked about the Great Stink of 1858 at the Story Siren. Today’s topic is Victorians and Opium.
What do you think of when you hear the word “opium”? Hookahs? Poppies? Maybe, if you’re an English major, you think of Thomas DeQuincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Today, I’m here to suggest that you may also want to think about terribly respectable Victorian ladies with their corsets tightly laced and a dose of laudanum to hand. It’s the same thing, in lots of ways.
Let me explain. Opium has a long history of both medical and, shall we say, recreational use. But it was a Jekyll-and-Hyde sort of substance in Victorian England because “opium” still had very un-English connotations. Opium suggested the Far East, opium wars in China, foreign men smoking hookahs. It was also used in bohemian circles – for example by DeQuincey, mentioned above – and amongst other arty types. All in all, it’s about as far from solid, mainstream family fare as you can get.
Laudanum, however, was a liquid tincture of opium widely prescribed by doctors for pains, for anxiety, as a sleeping aid, and other general ailments for which a little light sedative might be helpful. It was unregulated in Victorian England. It was a major ingredient in lots of over-the-counter medicines, and few households were without their little bottle of laudanum. It forms a major plot point in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, where it’s used to treat both insomnia and chronic pain (with very different results). It was also used as a medicine to soothe fussy or teething babies. In her novel Mary Barton, Victorian author Elizabeth Gaskell notes it was used to dull hunger pangs in the starving babies of the urban poor. In her words, “It was mother’s mercy”.One drug, two faces. It’s an electrifying symbol of Victorian society – and in many ways, of ours, too. We can afford to feel smug and superior about opium. But I’m always haunted by a vision of anthropologists, a hundred years in the future, looking back at us. What do you think they’ll see?
If you think A Spy in the House sounds interesting, be sure to check out the following links!
Enter to win a copy of the book at Y.S. Lee's website: http://yslee.com/2010/03/more-loot-aka-the-if-i-were-a-spy-contest/
Visit the other blog stops from the A Spy in the House Traveling to Teens tour: http://travelingtoteenstours.weebly.com/tours---2010.html