When I reviewed Michelle Cooper’s A Brief History of Montmaray, I hadn’t yet read the follow-up. In fact, I hadn’t even realized there was going to be a follow-up until right before I wrote my review. And then no bookstores had a copy of The FitzOsbornes in Exile. I know, because I went to six of them. I ended up having to order it online (which always annoys me) and then wait for it to come (which annoys me even more) before I finally got to pour through it in one night of ridiculous excitement.
Sophia FitzOsborne and the royal family of Montmaray escaped their remote island home when the Germans attacked, and now find themselves in the lap of luxury. Sophie’s journal fills us in on the social whirl of London’s 1937 season, but even a princess in lovely new gowns finds it hard to fit in. Is there no other debutante who reads?!And while the balls and house parties go on, newspaper headlines scream of war in Spain and threats from Germany. No one wants a second world war. Especially not the Montmaravians—with all Europe under attack, who will care about the fate of their tiny island kingdom? Will the FitzOsbornes ever be able to go home again? Could Montmaray be lost forever?
I have to talk about Sophie, because Sophie is these books. Oh, Sophie. I freaking love Sophie. I love that she is smart. I love that no one ever gives her credit for being smart, and she just lets it roll off her back. I love that she is so open-minded. I love that she is the glue that holds her whole family and, by extension, her whole country and its history together. And I love, maybe more than anything else, that she knows what she wants and what’s important and she fights and works toward it. She may not have ever aspect of her life figured out, it’s true. But she also lives in a difficult time under difficult circumstances and she still wakes up every day and makes things happen. That’s why (as I said when I reviewed A Brief History), Sophie is the kind of character I want to put onto my future child’s brain as soon as is humanly possible.
The buildup to World War II is such a perfect setting for this story. There is the political insecurity and the general unease in the world, and that is really reflected in Sophie’s story. I thought the historical touches added a lot to this book’s plot and character development. I especially liked the real world characters dropped in (Kick Kennedy, for one, was a perfect compliment to Sophie) and the communism versus fascism versus socialism arguments were fascinating to read even if once or twice they slowed down what was happening in the plot.
But this is a journal, so of course the characters are going to comprise most of what made The FitzOsbornes so interesting. Things happen, and the FitzOsbornes do things, sure. But how Sophie feels about her family and her friends helped make me love this book. And her family and friends themselves were so well characterized. Everyone had a personality that went deeper than a stereotype. Everyone was more complicated than that, and often in ways only Sophie could see. It made this journal feel like it could be real, which is probably the greatest strength of this series.
Her comparisons between Simon and Rupert were also a great read for me. Simon, who has relationship troubles all his own, but who acknowledges Sophie’s intelligence and guile (even if he always seems surprised by it). And Rupert, who quietly appreciates her and seemed to be a perfect compliment to her in so many ways. I think it will be interesting to see where this goes. I, hope, at least, that she ends up with one of the two because I think it will say a lot about the type of person Sophie decides to be.
My one complaint was how quickly time seemed to pass in this book. If you aren’t paying attention to the dates at the start of each chapter, you can quickly get lost (I did). In some ways, those holes made me feel like something was missing. But, on the other hand, it’s the nature of a journal and a life. Still, it made some of the character choices feel a little out of place because they were quick reversals from something that to the reader feels like it was five minutes ago, but for the character could have been months. The I Capture the Castle similarities were also still there, but seemed lessen by the historical context.
Overall, I loved FitzOsbornes in Exile and I love the whole Montmaray Journals series. I wish Michelle Cooper had a twitter/facebook/something so I could fangirl her on every social network possible. Her books are smart and fun and sad and funny and many, many other adjectives. Please, go pick up A Brief History of Montmaray if you haven’t already and plow on to The FitzOsbornes in Exile. You won’t regret it.