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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.
About the Author
SARAH ZETTEL is an award-winning science fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery writer. She is married to a rocket scientist and has a cat named Buffy the Vermin Slayer. Visit her website at www.sarahzettel.com.
Read an Excerpt
In which a dramatic reading commences, and Our Heroine receives an unexpected summons.
I 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.
Before these events, I was simply Margaret Preston Fitzroy, known mostly as Peggy, and I began that morning as I did most others—at breakfast with Cousin Olivia, reading the newspapers we had bribed the housemaid to smuggle out of uncle’s book room.
“Is there any agony this morning?” asked my cousin as she spread her napkin over her flowered muslin skirt.
I scanned the tidy columns of type in front of me. Uncle Pierpont favored the Morning Gazetteer for its tables of shipping information, but there were other advertisements there as well. these were the “agony columns,” cries from the heart that some people thought best to print directly in the paper, where the object of their desire, and everybody else, would be sure to get a look at them.
“‘To Miss X from Mr. C,’” I read. “‘The letter is burnt. I beg you may return without delay.’”
“A Jacobite spy for certain,” said Olivia. “What else?” “How’s this? ‘Should any young gentleman, sound of limb, in search of employment present himself at the warehouse of Lewis & Bowery in Sherwood Street, he will meet a situation providing excellent remuneration.’”
“Oh, fie, Peggy. How dull.” My cousin twitched the paper out of my hands and smoothed it over her portion of the table.
As I know readers must be naturally curious about the particulars of the heroine in any adventure, I will here set mine down. I was at this time sixteen years of age, and in what is most quaintly called “an orphaned state.” In my case, this meant my mother was dead and no one knew where my father might be found. I possessed dark hair too coarse for fashion, pale skin too prone to freckle in the sun, and dark eyes too easily regarded as “sly,” all coupled with a manner of speaking that was too loud and too frank. These fine qualities and others like them resulted in my being informed on a daily basis that I was both a nuisance and a disappointment.
Because I was also a girl without a farthing to call my own, I had to endure these bulletins. As a result, I was kept at Uncle Pierpont’s house like a bad-tempered horse is kept in a good stable. That is, grudgingly on my uncle’s part and with a strong urge to kick on mine.
“Perhaps it’s a trap.” I poured coffee into Olivia’s cup and helped myself to another slice of toast from the rack. I will say, the food was a point in favor of my uncle’s house. He was very much of the opinion that a true gentleman kept a good board. That morning we had porridge with cream, toast with rough-cut marmalade, kippered herrings, and enough bacon to feed a regiment. Which was good, because that regiment, in the form of all six of Olivia’s plump and over-groomed dogs, milled about our ankles making sounds as if they were about to drop dead of starvation. “Perhaps the young man who answers the advertisement will be tied in a sack and handed to the press gangs.”
“There’s a thought. They might be slavers and mean to sell him to the Turks. The Turks are said to favor strong young English men.”
It is a tribute to Olivia’s steadfast friendship that my urge to kick never extended to her. My cousin was one of nature’s golden girls, somehow managing to be both slim and curved, even before she put on her stays. She possessed hair of an entirely acceptable shade of gold and translucent skin that flushed pink only at appropriate points. As if these were not blessings enough, she had her father’s fortune to dower her and a pair of large blue eyes designed solely to drive gallant youths out of their wits. Those same gallants, however, might have been surprised to see Olivia leap to her feet and brandish an invisible sword.
“Back, you parcel of Turkish rogues!” she cried, which caused the entire dog flock to yip and run about her hems, looking for something very small they could savage for their mistress’s sake. “I am a stout son of England! You will never take me living!”
“Hurray!” I applauded.
Olivia bowed. “Of course, our Hero kills the nearest ruffian to make his escape, the rest of the gang pursues him, and he is forced to flee London for the countryside—”
“Where he is found dying of fever in a ditch by the fair daughter of Lord . . . Lord . . .”
“Lord Applepuss, Duke of Stemhempfordshire.” Olivia scooped up the stoutest of her dogs and turned him over in her arm so she could smooth his fluff back from his face and gaze adoringly down at him. “Lady Hannah Applepuss falls instantly in love and hides our Hero in a disused hunting lodge to nurse him back to health. But Lord Applepuss is a secret supporter of the Pretender, and he means to marry his daughter off to a vile Spanish noble in return for money for another uprising—”
“and as she is forced onto a ship to sail for Spain, he steals aboard for a daring rescue?”One of the dogs decided to test out its savaging skills on my slipper. I gave it a firm hint that this was a bad idea with the toe of that selfsame slipper. It yipped and retreated. “Can there be pirates?”
“Of course there are pirates.” Olivia nipped some bacon off her plate with her fingers. “What do you take me for?” She turned to the dogs and held the bacon up high so that they all stood neatly on their hind legs, and all whined in an amazing display of puppy harmony.
“You really should write a play, Olivia,” I said, addressing myself once more to my toast, coffee, and kippers. “You’re better at drama than half the actors in Drury Lane.”
“Oh, yes, and wouldn’t my parents love that? Mother already harangues me for overmuch reading. ‘A book won’t teach you how to produce good sons, Olivia.’”
“That just shows she hasn’t read the right books.” Olivia clapped her hand over her laugh. “You outrageous thing! Well, perhaps I shall write a play. Then—”
But I never was to know what she would do then. For at that moment, the door opened, and to our utter shock and surprise, Olivia’s mother entered.
My Aunt Pierpont declared she could not bear the smell of food before one of the clock, so she daily kept to her boudoir until that time. My throat tightened at the sight of her, and my mind hastily ran down a list of all my recent activities, wondering which could have gotten me into trouble this time.
My cousin, naturally, remained unperturbed. “Good morning, Mother. How delightful of you to join us.” Olivia possessed admirably tidy habits when it came to other people’s property and forbidden literature. She folded the paper so its title could not be seen. “Shall I pour you some coffee?”
“Thank you, Olivia.” Aunt Pierpont had been a celebrated beauty in her day. She still carried herself very straight, but time and four babies had softened and spread her figure. Twenty-odd years of marriage to my uncle had wreaked havoc upon her nerves, and she was forever clutching at things; a handkerchief, a bottle of eau de toilet, an ivory fan. this morning it was the handkerchief, which she applied to her nose as she drew up her seat next to mine.
“Good morning to you too, Peggy. I trust you are well this morning?”
“Yes, Aunt. Quite. Thank you for asking.” I slipped a glance at Olivia, who was busy pouring coffee and offering it to her mother with sugar and cream. Olivia shook her head, a tiny movement you wouldn’t catch unless you were looking for it. She had no notion what occasioned this unprecedented appearance either.
“Isn’t the weather fine today?” Aunt Pierpont’s hands fussed with her lacy little square, as if about to pull it to bits. “Olivia, I think a stroll in the garden will be just the thing after breakfast.”
This was too much for even Olivia’s composure. a flicker of consternation crossed her face. “Yes . . . certainly. We’d be glad to, wouldn’t we, Peggy?”
“Erm, no, my dear. I thought just you and I. Surely, Peggy won’t mind.”
“No, of course not.” My mind was racing. What could Aunt have to say to Olivia that I couldn’t hear? Had Olivia received a marriage offer? Her looks and her father’s money meant she had cartloads of youths chasing after her. Worry knotted in my stomach. What would I do in this house without Olivia? Uncle Pierpont often grumbled about sending me off to Norwich to “make myself useful” to his aging mother, thus saving himself the cost of my keeping.
“Well.” Olivia delicately blotted her mouth with her napkin. “Shall I fetch my bonnet, then?”
“Yes, yes, do.”
Olivia scurried from the room, the canine flock trailing behind. Left alone with my aunt and my now thoroughly queasy stomach, I found it difficult to fit words to my tongue. “Peggy, you know we are all very fond of you.” Aunt Pierpont squeezed the much-abused handkerchief in her fist. “Yes, Aunt.” I stared at that strangled bit of lace and fancied it might soon yield some milk, or a plea for help. “And we’ve always had your welfare at heart.”
This is it. I am bound for Norwich and a damp cottage and a deaf old woman who can pinch a sixpence until it screams. I’d been there once before, one interminable, gray winter, to nurse the dowager Pierpont through a cold. She’d made up her mind that if she was to have nothing but gruel and weak tea, no one else need have anything better. I must have written a thousand murder plans in my diary in those months. Had her serving girl been able to read, I would have been hanged straightaway.
“I was very fond of your mother,” my aunt added suddenly. “You have grown to be very like her. Did you know that?”
“No.” In fact, she never spoke of my deceased mother. No one did.
Aunt Pierpont gave the handkerchief a fresh twist. “Well, you have. Just as pretty, and just as willful. You must. . .” She bit her lip, and another ripple of fear surged through me. But before she managed to continue, the door opened to admit Dolcy, the parlormaid.
“I beg your pardon, ma’am.” Dolcy bobbed her curtsy to us. “But Master says Miss Fitzroy is to join him in his book room.”
So, the end had come. I rose to my feet. My aunt smiled encouragingly at me and gave my hand a limp pat. Norwich. Empty. Gray. Flat. With a vicar whose sermons lasted a full two hours every Sunday and Thursday. My stays squeezed my breath, making me unpleasantly lightheaded as I walked to the door. No books in the cottage, no hearth in my bedroom . . .
Olivia stood in the dim hallway, bonnet dangling in her fingers.
“I heard everything.” She seized my hand at once. “What have you done? Tell me quickly.”
“Nothing, I swear.” We were due to attend Lady Clarenda Newbank’s birthday party that evening. I didn’t care for Lady Clarenda, nor she for me, but the party would provide a welcome change of scene. Because of this, I had been treading very gently around my uncle so he should not be tempted to forbid my going.
“Hmmm.” Olivia frowned. “Well, then, it’s probably something trifling. About expenses, perhaps.”
Neither one of us believed this, especially with her mother waiting to have some urgent, private conversation in the gardens. I walked the narrow, dark corridors to my uncle’s book room and found myself wondering if this was what it felt like to walk toward a trap one knew was coming. Unfortunately, unlike Olivia’s imaginary hero, I had no way to fight back.
The dominant feature of my uncle Pierpont’s book room was his desk. I had never once been in this room when the great ledger was not open on that gleaming surface, accompanied by bulwarks and battlements of letters and documents sealed with all colors of ribbon and wax.
Uncle Pierpont himself was a skinny man. He had skinny legs beneath his well-cut breeches and silk stockings. His arms had knobby elbows that always looked ready to poke through the cloth of his coat. the clever fingers of his hands seemed made for counting and writing sums. Slitted eyes graced his long face on either side of a nose at least as sharp as his pen. When I walked in, he was bent so close over his ledger, you might have thought he was using his nose rather than the goose quill to write out his accounts. His short-queue wig, a bundle of powdered curls, clung to the top of his head at a most dangerous angle.
I was determined to remain calm and resolute, but that room and the Desk had some magical power to them. By the time I crossed the long acre of carpet to stand in front of uncle Pierpont, I was once again eight years old, alone, poor, terrified, and trying desperately not to fidget.
Tthe great clock in the corner ticked, and ticked. My uncle continued his laborious writing without once glancing up. I valiantly battled against fidgets, against fear, and against wondering what uncle would do when his wig slipped off his shiny forehead, which it surely must at any moment.
Finally, Uncle Pierpont finished his column and lifted his nose from the page. “Ah, there you are at last.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied meekly. The quickest way through these interviews was to agree with whatever was said.
“I have some good news for you, Peggy.” Uncle Pierpont plucked a sheaf of documents bedecked with ribbons and red wax seals off one of his paper battlements.
“Good news? Sir?”
“Yes.” Uncle Pierpont pushed the documents across the desk toward me. “You are betrothed.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Palace Of Spies is the first book in The Palace Of Spies series by Sarah Zettel. Set amidst the intrigue of King George I and his life in court, with the possibility of a Jacobite uprising, this book will keep you on your toes as you navigate your way through this deceptively, intriguing story of mystery and deceit, as we try to unravel the secret plots and plans of the spies in the King's court. Young and poor orphan Margaret 'Peggy', is thrown out of her Uncle's house after she refuses to marry the man that she is betrothed to, luckily for her she is the spitting image of a Lady Francesca, lady in waiting of Princess Caroline, after the death of Francesca, Peggy takes on the identity of Francesca and resumes her place at court. She soon discovers that Francesca may have been murdered because of something she knew, not knowing who to trust or who may or may not be a spy Peggy becomes friends with an artist's apprentice Matthew whom she soon develops feelings for, but is he secretly a spy, or could it be Francesca's secret lover Robert a footman soldier who may have fallen into the clutches of Francesca's enemy Sophy, who is out to get Francesca any way she can. When she uncovers a plot against the current ruler who can she trust to help her? Will she survive long enough to reveal this secret? This was such an extremely well written historical novel, with enough heart pumping action to keep you turning the pages in a hurry to get to the thrilling end, Zettel has written an amazing story that I can't wait to continue on with in the next book.
I would like to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group & NetGalley for granting me a copy of this e-book to read in exchange for an honest review. Though I received this e-book for free that in no way impacts my review. Goodreads Teaser: "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." Peggy is an outspoken orphan who often seems more of a contemporary girl than she does a well-bred & properly reared young woman from King George I's time. Yet that may be what gives her the ability and backbone to standup for herself when things go awry. What should have been the best news of her life, at the time, turned out to be an unmitigated disaster. It is this situation in particular that I really struggled with, both her attitude and beliefs about proper marriageable age. But once I stepped past that the story really began to move for me. The pacing of the story is fairly well done, with few slow spots, and no spots that felt rushed. I liked Peggy, but I wish she were a bit more mentally consistent. The discord between a young woman who refers to the power men hold over women as a mathematical equation and one who was well reared and yet oblivious to the rather clear motivations of some of the key players in her life is rather jarring. Yet her lack of attention could likely be proscribed to the fact that she's busy living one massive lie, one that could end not only her life but the lives of those she's entered into this mad scheme with, and quite possibly innocents caught up in something they know nothing about. While there are other semi-major characters, the story is told via Peggy's voice thoughts. This means that everyone else is introduced as they relate to Peggy, and are painted with her perception of each. They consist of the usual assortment of protagonists and antagonists, with some changing roles several times before all is said and done. But then, as the first book in a series, is anything really 'done?' I'm hoping that now the story is set-up we will see more depth and detail in some of the other characters, as too often situations were introduced and then abandoned, with no solution or conclusion supplied. One character I'd certainly like to learn more about is Peggy's somewhat brash, and certainly creative, cousin Olivia. The person Peggy used as a model to get herself through some of her more challenging situations. So what made Olivia the smart, strong-willed young woman that she so clearly is? It is things such as this that I find myself hoping to learn more about in the coming sequel.
Palace of Spies is a funny, adventure filled romp through the historical setting of the royal palace during the rein of King George. It has just about everything a girl could want out of a book. Pretty dresses, intrigue, sword fights, scandal, and a splash of romance. First and foremost, this book is a mystery. Peggy find herself in an unlikely situation and takes it upon herself to figure out what happened to the girl she is impersonating. I'm not going to lie - I loved the story. The plot was fast paced and fun. I loved Peggy as the narrator. She kept things interesting with her sarcasm and her wit. The characters were all very lively and interesting. The book is free of innuendo, cursing, and graphic violence. There is an instance of assault and one where Peggy stumbles across a tryst, but other than that, the book is clean. The only thing I didn't like about the book is that some of the details are murky and the motives behind some of the characters remained confusing and unclear. I still can't figure out Robert and whether or not I should like him, hate him, pity him, or despise him. Maybe that's how I'm supposed to feel about him, but his character is one that feels unresolved. Regardless, I am definitely reading the next book! Content: One instance of sexual assault which gets interrupted and one instance of Peggy stumbling upon a hookup.
Love historical romance and spy novels put the two together and it is magic! I really enjoyed this one. I love the main character and the plot. I love the intrigue!! I can’t wait for the next one!
<i>I received a ARC copy from NetGalley.</i> I enjoy reading a good historical fiction novel and Palace of Spies did not disappointment me. It is full of mystery, royal intrigue, espionage, betrayal and a touch of romance. What could be better? Peggy Fitzroy, a sixteen year old orphan, has been kicked out of her uncle's home, and finds herself with nowhere to go. In walks Mr. Tinderflint with an offer she can't refuse or can she. He will give her a new identity, train her, and place her in the royal palace as one of the royal maids, but what is the catch. Why is Mr.Tinderflint doing this? What is he after? Peggy just may have to pay with her life to find out. Peggy is an intelligent, feisty character that you just want to root for. I enjoyed watching her struggle through the obstacles and mysteries that were set before her. Like Peggy, I had no clue what was really going on until the very end. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.
A unique perspective of court life from a little-fictionalized period during the reign of George I, the first in the House of Hanover to rule Great Britain, taking the throne in the early 18th century. Much has been written or interpreted of court life with Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, the opportunity to read another author's perspective on intrigue and the doings of the time was irresistible. Peggy is sixteen, a ward of her aunt and uncle after her parent's death, and plans have been made for her to wed. Finding the offer not to her liking, she refuses the betrothal, and her Uncle puts her from his care and protection. A well-bred young lady, she is wholly unsuited for life on her own, and when an offer to impersonate a Lady in Waiting to Caroline, Princess of Wales is offered via a man who claimed to have known her mother. Seeing no other options, Peggy agrees to the deal: assuming the identity of Lady Francesca, she begins her new life. Yet many questions begin to haunt. Jacobites, uncomfortable with the ascension of George over an English born heir are restless. While the Acts of Settlement specifically stated no catholic could assume the throne, their favored James, even though he was the half-brother of the dead Queen Anne. Peggy isn't sure if the information she is gathering will be used by the Jacobites, a courtier looking to gain further position, a blackmailer or even something more serious. What she discovers is that the real Lady Francesa has mysteriously disappeared without a trace, and she could be anywhere, even dead. When you add in those questions, and the fact that Peggy is asking questions and placing herself in danger, the tension works nicely and builds carefully to keep the reader engaged without overwhelming them with clever trickery. And lest we forget, Peggy is a sixteen year old girl: Boys are a must. And there is a sweet relationship starting to develop, although primary focus is on discovering who is behind the real Lady Francesca's death. I adored Zetel's use of the conventions common to 18th century writing, referring to the 'Dear Reader' and other little literary side notes. While I loved Peggy, and found her strong and clever, there were moments when she was overly complaining about her clothing or other people, and her language use did lapse to modern use. While it wasn't as laden with Jacobite references and history, this is the first in a series: I can only hope that as the series progresses more historical references will be added in. Yet, this is a book written ultimately for the YA market, and is one that I would certainly recommend to readers 14 and up. The story is fast paced and the characters are clever, the court intrigue is detailed meticulously and is quite entertaining. For people unsure about historical fictions, or those who enjoy them, this certainly is a series and an author to check out. I received an eGalley copy of the title via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Margaret “Peggy” Fitzroy led a reasonably charmed life until she was kicked out on her keister and forced to delve in the palace of intrigue, suspicion, and ne’er-do-wells, many of whom have buckets of money, or like to pretend that the dowry extends forever in one direction, even if it dried up about fifty years ago. Sebastian Sandford, relegated to a minor role, showed his hands and his petulant attitude and his preponderance for fondling the merchandise before the appointed hour, with nary a care in the world. And Uncle Pierpont showed fangs and horns and bastard tendencies with relative ease, tossing out his niece faster than a banana peel and slamming the door hard enough to rock the foundation. But had he shown more normal tendencies and familial congeniality, PALACE OF SPIES never would have reached the atmosphere, so we can thank him for his complete and utter ridiculousness. Peggy had a slight aftertaste, not growing on me until a bit later in the tale, but when she did, I appreciated her and her firecracker ways. She had spunk and charm and held on to certain folks a bit too long and offered up some youthful naiveté in this historical tale. While some mysterious elements lingered, and a dead body or two appeared on scene, I’d say this was more historical with a bit of romance and some rather cryptic moments. The plot had a few dangling points and outliers that wrapped up a bit too nicely and maybe a bit too forcefully, and while research was conducted and historical accuracies appeared to be inflicted upon the story, this wasn’t a heavy read by any means. And it was easily consumable, like popcorn or Pez or candy corn. What really popped my balloon faster than a safety pin, though, was the murderer spouting off for no other reason than pure ego. Really? While it was a bit briefer this go round than the previous iteration, it still left me with a dry mouth and a slight headache. Can we move past the egomaniacs and psychotic miscreants and move toward more common ground? I promise we’ll all be happier, and we don’t even have to hold hands. I received this book for free through NetGalley. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
Young Adult intrigue in King George’s court! Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel pits a spirited young lady against the deceit and treachery that runs amok at the palace. A plot is foot to steal the throne, and Peggy is to spy on courtly goings on, playing the part of the late “Francesca”, a young woman who, it seems may have died under suspicious circumstances. Who is for the King, who is against him, who can the outspoken Peggy trust? Sarah Zettel has done well in creating that historical feel to her work. Adding a mystery and some intrigue for the heroine to sink her teeth into creates some tense moments while never making the solutions obvious! There are moments of witty banter, and even some rather comical moments as we are privy to the thoughts of young Peggy. Does her brain ever stop? How long can she endure some of the people at court? Is she really fooling them into believing she is Francesca? For YA historical fiction readers, this should prove an interesting book, not too deep, with characters that sometimes seem to need a little more color, but definitely a trip back in time that moves at a quick pace through the maze of mysteries! I received an ARC edition in exchange for my honest review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children's Book Group.