I seem to have a knack for choosing books from the middle of a series. I picked up Princess Elizabeth’s Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal without spotting the bolded word return on the back cover, only noting “World War II” and “Churchill” and “code-breaking,” which were enough for me. I hesitated at the publisher’s note inside, where I finally read closely enough to notice “brings back secret agent Maggie Hope,” but I needed a book to read that night and decided to throw caution to the wind.
I needn’t have worried, because MacNeal provides enough background in this, book two of her Maggie Hope Mystery series, for readers to be perfectly comfortable in Maggie’s world. (I did pick up the audiobook version of the first story about midway through the second just to fill in the gaps.)
Maggie is quite likeable, a thoroughly modern woman in a world not yet ready to fully embrace her. She has a degree in mathematics from Wellesley, and was set to pursue a graduate degree from M.I.T. (because Princeton would not admit women), when her life took a detour to London right as Britain entered the war. As this second volume begins, Maggie is attempting to qualify for MI-5, but is instead selected to protect Princess Elizabeth while posing as a maths tutor.
Overall, I enjoyed this story. MacNeal has a wonderful way with descriptive language and attempts to engage multiple senses. I found myself looking up perfumes the characters wore and wanting to hear the songs described. I am not terrifically fond of her use of the omniscient point-of-view. The multiple voices took me out of Maggie’s story, especially a throwaway paragraph on a minor character’s background. I would have liked a little more code-breaking and a more mysterious mystery. However, it was a fun read and I look forward to the next chapter in Maggie’s journey, due in the spring of 2013.
In the meantime, library lovers may relate to those in this picture MacNeal recently posted on her blog.
Princess Elizabeth's Spy is due out October 16th.