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Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Palace of Spies: Palace of Spies #1" by Sarah Zettel (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don't.

Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she's impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love...

History and mystery spark in this effervescent series debut.

FORMAT: Palace of Spies is the first novel in a proposed series which carries the same name. It is a YA historical fiction novel that contains mystery, espionage, gossip, drama, and adventure. Palace of Spies stands at 368 pages and was published by HMH Books for Young Readers on November 5, 2013.

ANALYSIS: Palace of Spies is a unique novel that combines historical facts, thrilling adventure, mystery, and of course – spies. Choosing a rather unique time period of 1778 (roughly), this entire novel documents that trials and tribulations of young Peggy.

Peggy, an orphan, is left in the care of her overbearing and strict uncle. The novel starts off with the announcement of Peggy's betrothal to a wild, obnoxious man whom Peggy has never met. Upon their first meeting, the young man assaults Peggy. Peggy is only freed from a worse fate by the appearance (and help) of a mysterious man – who offers her his assistance if the need should ever arise in the future.

When Peggy tells her uncle, he doesn't believe her and instead tosses her out of the house with nothing but the clothing on her back. Peggy is forced to turn to the help of the mysterious man from the previous evening. It turns out the man is a part of a partnership and they have need for a young woman to take the place of a lady of the court who has recently passed away under suspicious circumstances.

Peggy agrees to the job position and the rest of the novel is focused on her adventures. Peggy soon finds herself the center of attention in the court of Princess Caroline, Princess of Wales. She is thrown into all the petty fights, political games, and mystery that come with being a member of the court.

What Peggy does not expect is to find out that the young lady of the court she is replacing soon turns out to be what appears to be a spy and her death may not have been as natural as everyone is pretending it to be. Peggy works to uncover the mystery surrounding the lady of the court's death, while seeing who exactly she is working for as a spy.

Palace of Spies is a great novel for those that love historical fiction and are looking for something a little out of the norm when it comes to this type of genre. There is mystery, romance, and spy espionage. If none of this appeals to you, it probably is not a novel that would be for you as it doesn't really offer much else.

I found Palace of Spies to be mediocre. The beginning was extremely slow moving. Considering this is a first novel of a series, readers are treated to a lot of descriptions and forced to 'get to know' the characters in the novel.

Unfortunately, I found myself not really liking anyone in the novel. I was indifferent to Peggy; the ladies of the court were secondary characters and didn't play a huge role in the novel. I did enjoy Peggy's cousin, but she didn't really show up until the end of the novel. (She'll have a bigger part in other books).

I think a major part of why I did not like the characters is because of how the novel was written. It is written in the first person narrative of Peggy. Peggy's style is to talk about events, but put in little 'asides' to the reader. It wasn't a bad style to write in, it just did not make the main character appealing to me at all.

While I didn't really care for the characters, I did find the amount of historical detail – while maybe not 100% accurate – amazing and captivating. I also enjoyed the mystery element to the novel. I found myself wondering what side the previous lady of the court was playing, what her scheme was, and what happened to her. I really feel if there hadn't been such a mysterious element to it, I would have stopped reading after the first few chapters.

Palace of Spies is the first novel in a series. While the main plot of the mystery surrounding the lady of the court who died is solved, there are hundreds of other 'lose ends' left out there for readers. In fact, I walked away with more questions than I expected. If you do not like cliffhangers, this is not a book for you.

Overall, I found Palace of Spies to be 'alright'. I enjoyed it, as I love historical fantasy books about England and found the time period unique, but not really connecting with characters made it less than enjoyable. I will probably wait to see how the second book is in the series before deciding.


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