Saturday, September 28, 2013

Palace of Spies, Sarah Zettel

Palace of SpiesI must begin with a frank confession. I became Lady Francesca Wallingham only after I met the man calling himself Tinderflint. This was after my betrothal, but before my uncle threw me into the street and barred the door. 

"Murder. Espionage. Card games? Peggy Fitzroy has many talents, but until recently these three were not among them. No, Peggy was merely a lively and charming young lady of the regular sort, until the day she refused to marry the utter cad chosen for her. Cast out on the street, Peggy has to find a means of support. Though it sounds rather mysterious, she agrees to disguise herself as a lady in waiting in the court of King George I. The real lady in waiting died, supposedly of natural causes. Life at the palace is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that something dreadful happened to the girl she is impersonating. Could it have been murder? Unless Peggy can discover what really happened, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate! But in a court filled with shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy - perhaps even Matthew, the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love..."

Palace of Spies was a somewhat amusing and very light young adult historical fiction and mystery novel. With romance, of course. Still, I enjoyed Peggy with her snarky observations. At least in the ARC, at the beginning of each chapter there is a little caption, like "In which our heroine is wickedly confined, cruelly provoked, and commits several acts of a rash nature" and other such funny phrases.

I didn't find Palace of Spies very interesting, though. Some of the witty conversations weren't all that witty, and the intrigue wasn't all that intriguing. The author tried to bring to life the early 18th century with extensive descriptions of clothing, but it didn't really work very well. I did learn what a mantua was, and it sounds awful. Still, the descriptions could have been better. I also think a light, frivolous book like this glosses over the horrors of that time period, the abject poverty and the rampant disease.

Still, there were a few funny parts of the book, such as some of the conversations Peggy has, and the way she narrates the book and describes each character. Most of the characters were kind of uninteresting though, and didn't seem to be realistic, like the royals. Despite Palace of Spies being a light, quick read, some of the sections felt bogged down. Not much happened of note except a couple of cryptic and uninteresting conversations or exchanges of notes. Peggy was okay, but not super compelling. There were some okay parts, but I didn't enjoy the book a whole lot. It's not suspenseful at all. After about 220 pages, not much had happened; Peggy is just learning the important stuff. In fact, I have no idea how the book managed to have 220 pages cover so little. It was very weak. After that, some intrigue and deception starts coming into play, and Palace of Spies picks up a bit, as Peggy wonders who she can trust and realizes that some of the people she thought were sincere aren't.

I didn't like the romance-love triangle thing much either, although Matthew was all right, I suppose. It just wasn't very interesting (and frankly, neither was the rest of the plot). I also found it so unrealistic that all these people who knew Francesca would fail to see that Peggy is not her: the Princess of Wales, Robert, Sophy, and a whole bunch of other people who were close acquaintances of Francesca. But I suppose as Mr. Tinderflint says, people see what they expect to see and nothing more.

I'll be the first to admit that some of the issues in terms of pacing and characterization might be only in the galley; the book itself doesn't come out until early November, and in between now and then, the author might make changes. In fact, in the ARC the title is listed as A Most Dangerous Deception, which I actually like better. If the title can change, why not other parts of the book? I might have a look online at the final copy when it comes out to see if it's any different. It's certainly possible, but I still can't recommend Palace of Spies. I came in hoping for a light but entertaining, amusing, and suspenseful read. Instead, I just got something light with barely any action. The premise was interesting, but the book fell flat for me. Sometimes light reads can be a good way to pass the afternoon, sometimes you feel like you kind of wasted a bunch of your time. I felt that way with Palace of Spies. There were a few good moments, but not enough. I guess...I just didn't feel very interested in the story, and I'll probably forget the book's events within a few months (or weeks, maybe).

I received an ARC from Harcourt. Palace of Spies will be released on November 5th. 

368 pages.

Rating: **

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