Review: Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel

Friday, November 15, 2013
Title: Palace of Spies
Author: Sarah Zettel
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: Palace of Spies #1
Pages: 368
Published: November 5 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

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.

Remember how awesome Miss Congeniality was/is/will foreverbe? Okay. And now picture that in the 1700's with Princesses and Jacobean/Hanoverian politics instead of a bomb threat.

Okay. I lost you there a bit, didn't I? With the "Jacobean/Hanoverian politics" bit, right? It's okay. Stay tune. It all sounds intimidating. It sounds Very Historically Important. And while it is, but it is also pretty key to the plot of Palace of Spies. BUT the good is that Sarah Zettel explains it so well you won't even notice when you've picked a side in the succession debate hundreds of years in the past. 

At eye level, this story is really a mix of Miss Congeniality meets Etiquette & Espionage mixed with Gilt and Maid of Secrets. And while I think the plot bares some similarity to all of the above, the story is wholly original. I used to think "romp" was ill-used for historical fiction, but this totally is. It's fun and funny, but it packs some suspense in there too. Zettel is a smart author and her ability to create distinct, developed characters and, at the same time, to foster a strong sense of atmosphere is impressive.

I really enjoyed the characters. I've always been able to do so with Zettel's characters and Peggy is no different. Her voice is strong, distinctive and lively through her close first-person narration. She's funny and smart, but somewhat out of her depth when caught up in the likes of Tinderflint, Mr. Peele and Mrs. Abbott's conspiracy. Through her various roles and her ups and downs, Peggy starts to learn there's more to what she is doing than she is told and she may not be safe. The erstwhile Margaret Preston Fitzroy slips into her spy role after a book-montage of training specific skills, facts, etc., with ease, but the life of a courtier is ever one of a false-facer and a liar.

The mystery aspect is similarly well-done as the rest of the novel. It was convoluted and smart enough to keep the final revelation an actual surprise. There are some noticeable details absent, but I liked the difficulty presented. All too often, it's far too easy to spot the culprit way before the book wants you to, but there is none of that here. Above all. the book remains clever and fun until the end.

The first in a planned series, I'd say that Palace of Spies is a great place to launch. The humor is well-handled, the plot is fresh, the pace is brisk, and the characters are engaging. There is a lot of room to explore further along in this series -- Robert's employer, Peggy's dad, Jacobite plots -- and I think that Sarah Zettel won't let me down.

1 comment:

  1. Oh! Yay! I'm extremely excited about this one so I'm glad to know you enjoyed it! Makes me hopeful!


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