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Margaret “Peggy” Preston Fitzroy is in a pickle. She’s just rejected the marriage offer her uncle Pierpont arranged. Peggy has a reason for this decision and when she tries to explain it to her uncle he issues her an ultimatum: accept the suit or be thrown out of the house. Peggy’s fate was sealed the night she met her potential suitor, Sebastian Sanford. He’s intrigued at first especially after Peggy stands up to Lady Clarenda Newbank and Peggy is happy to have his approval. Their first meeting is going well until he attempts to force himself on her and she’s saved by a gentleman, Mr. Tinderflint. Peggy is grateful until he states his reason for seeking her out: he offers her a position in King George I’s court. Peggy declines, but when her uncle throws her out of the house she has nowhere else to go. She remembers Tinderflint’s offer and accepts it. Peggy trains hard to assume the identity of a dead spy, Lady Fran. And at the palace she quickly suspects Lady Fran was murdered. As the weeks drag on, she’s afraid she’ll meet the same fate.
The language is a bit too modern for a historical fiction novel, but I understand why Sarah Zettel chose this avenue. Palace of Spiesreally is geared towards young teens and its use of modern language makes it easier for this age range to enjoy. Narrative is first person told via Peggy’s point of view. Peggy is a trustworthy narrator, but I would have liked a little more in-depth narration with regards to palace life and at times it felt a bit dreary, but overall the writing is solid.
Character development is a bit weak. Despite spending a large amount of time with Peggy, I don’t feel as if we get to know her. She feels very much out of reach and I’m not sure if it’s the way Zettel planned it since this is the first book in the series or it was by done by accident. It makes sense that Peggy would evolve as the series progresses. I found the people in Mr. Tinderflint’s employment to be the most intriguing since they aren’t who they claim to be and Peggy finds this out the hard the way. With regards to her family, I really liked her cousin Olivia and can’t wait to see what role she plays in the future. There’s a bit of a love triangle between Peggy, Robert the footman, and Matthew the artist. Of these two, Matthew is the most developed with Robert staying the background and tied to Lady Fran’s past. Then there’s Lady Fran herself, Tinderflint’s dead spy. We get a glimpse into her life, but she remains a shadow until the end and even then I’m not sure we get the whole story.
As for the overall reason Peggy is enlisted as a spy, I didn’t feel as if the reason or the cause was dire enough to warrant it. We’re given bits of history with regards to the Jacobites and the possibility of overthrowing King George I; though this takes a back seat with the primary focus on Peggy and fellow maid Molly and their antics. Peggy is useless as a spy and I know she’s put in the position of not knowing who to trust, but I wanted her to play a larger role and instead just stumbles upon important information which she has no idea what to do with. I have high hopes she will grow into her role. If I have one tiny gripe about Palace of Spies is the lack of a further reading or historical notes section. I do believe young readers would enjoy this and prompt them to look further into the time period and history. The best thing about Palace of Spies was the interaction between Matthew and Peggy. I adored their banter and the way their friendship developed. There are few unanswered questions and I’m hoping they’ll get addressed in the future. The big issue for me has to do with the illness Olivia experiences. Did no one alert her family? If so, what was their reaction? Ultimately, why did Peggy’s uncle believe his sister was a courtesan and how did she hide her activities as a spy?
Overall, Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies is a satisfactory read and has the potential to grow into a good series. If you’re looking for a book filled with adventure then you’ll probably enjoy this; however, if you’re looking for an in-depth mystery filled with intrigue, I suggest previewing a few pages to decide if you want to proceed. Though I do believe, Palace of Spies will be most enjoyed by young teens.