Review of A Brief History of Montmaray

A Brief History of Montmaray

by Michelle Cooper

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2010. 296 pages.
Starred Review
2010 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Other Teen Fiction

With a lonely castle on the front, I expected some kind of medieval romance, but that’s not what I got at all. Instead, I found a historical adventure, with suspense and mystery and danger, and some teens needing to be resourceful.

The book is the diary of Sophia Margaret Elizabeth Jane Clementine FitzOsborne, princess of Montmaray, begun on her sixteenth birthday, as World War II was brewing in Europe.

Montmaray is a fictional island in the Bay of Biscay, off the coasts of Spain, France, and the United Kingdom. Sophia’s Uncle John is king of the island nation — but he is, frankly, insane. Her older brother Toby, the heir to the throne, is going to school in England. She has an older cousin Veronica, and a ten-year-old sister Henry who wishes she were a boy. Their parents are dead, and they live in the castle with the housekeeper tending to their Uncle John.

There aren’t many villagers left on Montmaray, and they don’t have ships come by terribly often. They still try to keep up the trappings of royalty, but Sophia’s aunt wants her to come to England. If she did, who would watch things at Montmaray? But then when some Germans show up, Sophia wants to find out what they’re looking for. And if they don’t find it, what can the royal family do to defend themselves?

It’s very hard to explain this book. I’d heard it described as a romance, which doesn’t really fit, even though Sophia does talk about her crush on the housekeeper’s son. But there’s a lot more here than that. It’s a historical novel that feels real and draws you in. It gives us a delightfully unorthodox situation, quirky and fascinating characters, and a situation that seems all too real. What would you do if you were alone in the middle of the ocean with a kingdom everyone is leaving? When a war begins in Europe, would you be able to keep from taking sides? What if the larger countries don’t care which side you take?

One thing I can tell you about this book: It’s a good read! I highly recommend it.

Wonderful! Looking up the links to this book on Amazon, I just learned that a sequel is coming out in April 2011: The FitzOsbornes in Exile! Huzzah!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from the Fairfax County Public Library.

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