Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011
Agnes Wilkins is standing in front of an Egyptian mummy, about to make the first cut into the wrappings, about to unlock ancient (and not-so-ancient) history. Maybe you think this girl is wearing a pith helmet with antique dust swirling around her.
Maybe you think she is a young Egyptologist who has arrived in Cairo on camelback.
Maybe she would like to think that too. Agnes Wilkins dreams of adventures that reach beyond the garden walls, but reality for a seventeen-year-old debutante in 1815 London does not allow for camels—or dust, even. No, Agnes can only see a mummy when she is wearing a new silk gown and standing on the verdant lawns of Lord Showalter’s estate, with chaperones fussing about and strolling sitar players straining to create an exotic “atmosphere” for the first party of the season. An unwrapping.
This is the start of it all, Agnes’s debut season, the pretty girl parade that offers only ever-shrinking options: home, husband, and high society. It’s also the start of something else, because the mummy Agnes unwraps isn’t just a mummy. It’s a host for a secret that could unravel a new destiny—unleashing mystery, an international intrigue, and possibly a curse in the bargain.
Get wrapped up in the adventure . . . but keep your wits about you, dear Agnes.
I’m going to say upfront that the book reminded me pretty significantly of Y.S. Lee’s A Spy in the House (my thoughts are here) in terms of the plucky female lead who bucks tradition to solve a mystery. However, Mary wasn’t high society like Agnes is in Wrapped, and the stories were plenty different enough in terms of their mysteries. But the similarities are definitely there, at least for me personally, although this could be because I read the Mary Quinn book not that long ago.
Let me first say that I enjoyed reading about Agnes. While she’s grown up in a life of luxury, she’s no slouch or simple debutante. She speaks several languages (some of them self-taught) and is an avid reader, particularly of books by A Lady (aka Jane Austen). Agnes had a quick wit and some moments that made me LOL. However, there were some things that were distinctly out of character for a girl growing up in the early 19th century, particularly when it came to her spouting off about appropriation practices (i.e. taking items from other cultures – in this case, Egypt – and displaying them in the British Museum). This just was NOT something that anyone of this time would agree with, and in fact is something that hasn’t come into prominence until probably the last fifty years or so, if that. So that, to me, felt a bit like author insertion. Also, Agnes does a whole lot of sneaking out at night and walking around without her chaperone. As a lady of society (and a father who has a seat in the House of Lords) there’s no way she would have done this; reputation was too important. But for the most part, I was able to overlook those issues and just enjoy the book for what it was: a mystery novel with a bit of romance and intrigue thrown in.
I also adored Caedmon, the main male character. I can get behind someone trying to better himself thanks to simple hard work, and his intelligence, wit and sense of humor were wonderful to read. He and Agnes made such a fun team; I enjoyed watching them puzzle out the mystery, especially the bits regarding Caedmon’s translation of the Rosetta Stone. I will admit, though, that I figured out the villain well before it was revealed in the story, so the mystery regarding WHO was responsible was perhaps not as strongly written as it might have been. And the end, while definitely a happily-ever-after, was perhaps a bit too much of one, and started to verge into the “probably not realistic” realm. But as a lover of happy endings, I couldn’t complain too much, because I definitely wanted that for Agnes and Caedmon.
Anyway, a fun book with a decent mystery and a spunky, independent female lead. All in all, not too shabby!