Review: Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel

January 16, 2014 Historical Fiction, Reviews 8 ★★★½

Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel
Series: Palace of Spies # 1
Published by HMH Books For Young Readers on November 5, 2013
Genres: Historical FIction
Pages: 368
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
three-half-stars
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.

The hot pink cover of Palace of Spies doesn’t really scream “18th century,” but underneath all that fuchsia is a fun tale of historical fiction.  Peggy Fitzroy is an orphan in England, living under the guardianship of her wealthy uncle.  While she has all the necessities provided for her, along with a close relationship with her cousin, Olivia, Peggy’s uncle makes it very clear that his support is solely  a result of his sense of familial duty.  To get Peggy out of his hair, he arranges a marriage that looks good on paper.  But when this lovely suitor attempts to rape Peggy, she informs her uncle that there will be no marriage.  Enraged, he takes advantage of this opportunity to toss her out on the street.  A strange man with the fantastic name of Mr. Tinderflint comes to Peggy’s rescue.  In return, he wants her help.  She must pose as Francesca, a lady-in-waiting to Princess Caroline, to gather information on a possible plot to overthrow of King Geroge I.  The real Francesca is dead, but no one at court knows this; it’s believed that she is merely ill.

So, pose as someone you’ve never met, risk being found out and executed, and attempt to spy while you’re at it.  Sounds like an easy task, right?  Even if Peggy looks identical to Francesca, how can she mimic her voice and mannerisms?  How can she have conversations with people who knew the real Francesca?  This is where reminding yourself that this is a work of fiction comes in handy.  Before being sent to court, Peggy is given lessons on how to behave like an upper-class lady by Tinderflint and his associates.  They also tell her what they know about Francesca and her relationships.  But what they don’t tell her is their true motivations behind the scheme.

Zettel does well depicting life at court, with both the frivolities and potential danger it entails.  Francesca’s friends and enemies are now Peggy’s friends and enemies, and she must navigate these relationships without blowing her cover.  The story successfully builds the tension and intrigue, as neither we nor Peggy know exactly what to expect from the outcome of this scheme.  There are some surprising revelations, setting the stage for the second book in the series.  Peggy’s interactions with Princess Caroline were limited in this story, but that should change with the sequel.  It will also be nice to (hopefully) see more of Peggy’s independence come through, when she’s better able steer her own story.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Stephanie

8 Responses to “Review: Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel”

    • Stephanie

      I was on the happier side of the expectation equation: I actually enjoyed it more than I expected!

    • Stephanie

      Definitely not astounding, but it was fun, and I’d recommend it to others, particularly those who like historical fiction from this era.

  1. Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction

    I’ve not heard a whole lot about this book. That cover just is so bleh to me. I’m not a fan. I think I’d have a much better chance of reading it if it had a different cover. So sad that I still judge books by their covers. I can’t help myself. Glad to see that overall it was an enjoyable read for you. Not sure I’ll read this one or not.
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    • Stephanie

      I have no idea why they chose to use that cover. Very strange decision. I wonder if they’ll go with a new design for the sequel.

  2. Goldie

    I loved this book, and I’m really looking forward to the sequel. 🙂 It’s not a 5-star book for me, but it was enjoyable enough. 🙂

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