Publisher: Knopf BFYR
Published: January 2015
Genre: middle grade, historical fiction, mystery
Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude—but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, Mary is to become Ada’s first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary.
Ada finds numbers in everything. It’s how she understands her world. Mary is observant and a romantic, longing for adventure. When the two girls are thrust together, they become a dynamic duo and form a detective agency to help London find and prosecute the real criminals not put in the newspaper Ada reads everyday. Mary and Ada take on a case regarding a missing heirloom, and are able to solve it by discovering loopholes in propriety, the power of logic, and learning from one another.
When I found this adorable middle grade read pertaining to Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron’s genius computer programming daughter) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), I knew I had to read it. Toss in Percy Shelley, Charles Dickens, and references to The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, and I knew I’d be in love! This is Victorian Gothic / early detective fiction for young readers!
The author’s note regarding the ages and dates of all the characters was definitely a welcomed one. Mary was actually old enough to be Ada’s mother in real history, and obviously Percy was not much older than Mary. In the book, the author took liberties to make Mary, Ada, and Charles roughly the same age (with Charles the only character the accurate age in 1826), Percy their tutor, and Byron long dead. Even with these liberties, Stratford managed to capture these characters in such a way that it truly reflects who they eventually became (or at least how we know them to be). For example, Ada really was a bit of a rude genius, and Percy passionate but somewhat wishy washy. Mary, from what I’ve read, longed for adventure outside her home, but outwardly showed herself to be docile and polite (hence the shock of her book!).
Anyway, enough with my amazement with the timeline and nods and general Victorian-ness!
I found myself laughing at least once each chapter. There would be a turn of phrase, a line, an observation, a remark, that would cause me to laugh at the pun or the reference or the characterization. I especially enjoyed reading Ada’s line of logic — like how a guard should let two young girls into Newgate because no one ever begs to be let in, only let out — and Mary’s observational skills coming into play later on. The things Percy would fall for — like following the butler into the distillery and getting locked inside — would make me smack my forehead in exasperation, laugh, and read on.
Everything fit together nicely, like a neat little puzzle. I’ll admit I was paying more attention to all the Victorian literary parallels more so than the mystery — so solving the mystery of the missing moonstone came as a surprise, and quite clever too. The mystery is easy and intriguing enough that I think young readers will really enjoy it.
This book is perfect for mystery readers, educators, librarians, and logophiles (who will especially enjoy the puns and dialogue). I can’t wait for the next one, featuring Jane (aka Claire Clairmont) and Allegra! The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency will be an automatic buy for me.
This qualifies as book #2 in my resolution to read 10 library books in 2015.