Reviews /

The Agency for Scandal

Authored by Laura Wood
Published by Scholastic

Tagged , , , ,

The Agency for Scandal: Set at the end of the nineteenth century, The Agency for Scandal, Laura Wood’s latest YA title, is an entertaining and enjoyable story containing rich historical detail and with a feminist thread running through the story providing greater depth to the reading experience.

We first meet eighteen year old Isobel Stanhope at the Royal Opera House, a setting of opulence but also of intrigue. Initially we are led to believe that Izzy is quiet, perhaps a little upstaged by her more outgoing friend, but Izzy is hiding secrets and within three riveting chapters the reader realises that Isobel Stanhope is much more than ‘the wallflower’ she is believed to be by some. The sudden death of Izzy’s father two years previously has left her family without a regular income, his skill with locks meant many companies consulted him on matters of security and with the family wealth also lost they are now in financial difficulty. Isobel tries to continue her father’s business but no one will consider employing a woman. Her aptitude with keys and locks, taught by her father, results in Izzy being recruited to The Aviary where behind the facade of a haberdashery the impressive Mrs Finch and her charms of young finches belong to a secret agency offering a service to women in need. The teams of young women investigate cases varying from thefts to infidelities and they specialise in providing the information women may need to enable them to escape from impossible situations. In this way Izzy earns sufficient money to keep her younger brother in school and to support her invalid mother who is unaware of their financial predicament. 

Isobel’s situation is further complicated by the revelation that Max Vane, the Duke of Roxton with whom she is infatuated is in fact also hiding from society the fact that he is working for the secret service. Izzy and Max find themselves working together to foil a ruthless villain who in addition to discrediting his young wife is also endeavouring to obtain great power. The development of the relationship between Max and Izzy as they learn to trust each other has, I think, an undeniable charm.

The writing is witty and the pace of the storytelling ensures that this is a compelling read despite being over five hundred pages in length. There is intrigue, politics and social comment throughout the book and the plot keeps the reader’s attention and involvement. The inclusion of the real Devonshire House Ball of 1897 provides an authenticity to the story and the descriptions include much historical detail setting the scene well. This is great fun to read but also a story that would prompt discussion in the classroom, school library or book club. The position of women and their vulnerability with little or no power of their own at the time the book is set would link well to the study of the suffragette movement. The group of young women employed by the agency are quite different to each other but all are fascinating, strong characters providing an inclusive portrayal of teamwork and bravery. These are characters that the reader would enjoy learning more about and the fact that a sequel is planned may suggest that will be possible. This YA title would be suitable for the younger end of that target audience.