If you haven't noticed, I'm very picky about my female leads. A book can make or break based solely on the female MC. If she's a weak lass, following after every boy she meets and not thinking for herself then odds are I will hate the book. Girls in book need to be kick-ass, in the way that Sophie Mercer, Toby Daye, Deryn or Jacky Faber are. I do not tolerate Mary Sue's (or Bella-Loos) in the books that I read.
I'm assuming that I'm not the only one with his problem. That's why I bring you breakdown of a heroine! I'm going to start breaking apart the female characters in books I read in hopes of separating the strong female leads, from the girls they could easily beat up.
First up I'd like you to meet Mary "Lang" Quinn from The Agency
Just who is this Mary?
When we first meet Mary she's a street kid being convicted of stealing. And for that horrible crime (to prevent starvation) she's sentenced to hang. If the story ended there it would be a very short book. A mysterious benefactor appears from The Scrimshaw Academy, an all girls boarding school that also serves as the training grounds for the Agency.
Strength of Character
When we first meet Mary she's a tough little cookie. The death sentence doesn't even bother her. There is no crying, no begging. More just the attitude of "Well my life sucks, this can't make it any worse." And while I love someone with a survival instinct, Mary isn't giving up out of weakness. She just can't be bothered to beg, cry or give into girly hysterics.
When we see the more grown up Mary it's almost shocking how much she's changed from that little girl. She's intelligent, bright, stubborn, but she's gone a little soft. In some ways I liked young Mary's you-can't-hurt-me-anymore attitude. But no worries, Mary hasn't gone too soft.
Mary, a little frustrated will the doldrums existence of teaching students at the academy, wants to look at other options. So the headmistress offers to let her join The Agency. It's a secret group of all women spies that work throughout Victorian London. They pose as maids, companions, etc, taking advantage of the misconceptions about women to solve crimes. So needless to say restless Mary joins The Agency and gets her first assignment.
Often this is where female characters lose points from me. Seriously you'll think a girl is smart, then she goes weak in the knees and loses her head when she meets a cute boy.
There is a little bit of romance in this book. Mary is rather reluctant when it comes to relationships. Mary is focused on accomplishing her mission and solving the mystery of her first assignment. Nothing is going to get in the way of finding out the truth not even her assignment itself (which she goes well beyond the scope of to try to prove herself a worthy agent). Mary is a very practical, even when it comes to boys. There is only so much I can say about this without spoilers. The romance never gets in the way of story and is nicely done. Bravo to Mary Quinn (and the author of this book) for avoiding the biggest problem area.
Mary is smart and determined to the point of stubbornness. She navigates the world of Victorian England with strength uncommon for her time period. At times this novel is a little heavy-handed with "yay women are strong." But in a world where too many "strong" female characters lack real strength when push comes to shove, I'm glad to have the Agency with its pretty blatant message. The book is enjoyable, Mary is likable and the romance is just enough to leave me wanting more (and not enough to start the gag reflex).