The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the Montmaray Journals, Book II by Michelle Cooper. Knopf Books for Young Readers. 2011. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to A Brief History of Montmaray; the final book is The FitzOsbornes at War. Review copy from publisher.
The Plot: Sophie FitzOsborne and the rest of the royal family (cousin Veronica, 18; brother Toby, 18; sister Henrietta, 11; and friend/possible illegitimate cousin, Simon, 23) of Montmaray are now safely in England, living with Aunt Charlotte, following the events of A Brief History of Montmaray. In a nutshell: the Germans took over their small island home and the inhabitants of Montmaray fled to England.
England is full of parties and clothes and dances. No one wants to hear about a small island that was violently taken, no one wants to do anything other than remain at peace with the Germans.
The FitzOsbornes have lost their home; they are now royalty in exile. Aunt Charlotte’s good fortune to marry well means, well, they can depend on her large fortune to take care of them. Clothes, good food, servants — all are theirs. But what is the cost? Will they — like Charlotte — simply forget their home and heritage?
The FitzOsbornes in Exile is a filler book, in a way, filling the gap between the loss of Montmaray in the first book and World War II. It turns out, of course, for the FitzOsbornes and for Europe, that the time period is hardly filler. Much happens.
A family tree at the front of the book is a helpful catch-up on the characters and their relationships to each other. Other than that, Cooper jumps right into the story. There is very little recap, and this falls under the category “best to read in order,” but primarily to understand the relationships between the characters and what happened that led to the loss of Montmaray.
The Montmaray siblings and cousins are refuges; foreigners in exile. The first half of the book is primarily the adjustment to this. Aunt Charlotte is wealthy, wealthy enough for a country house and a city house, lots of staff, and all the privilege that comes with being both rich and royal (she, herself, is a Princess Royal of Montmaray). Every now and then, Sophie flashes back to their near-poverty existence on Montmaray. It’s own country and monarchy, yes., but it’s a tiny island with little natural resources and a population destroyed by the loss of an entire generation of men during the Great War.
The siblings and cousins all have strong personalities, forged by the self-reliance needed to live on Montmaray as well as the isolation of the island. Veronica, no-nonsense and brilliant, robbed of an education because she’s a girl, who doesn’t allow that stop her. Sophie loves the good food and pretty dresses of her new life, as well as her freedom from drudgery (who wouldn’t?) but no heads are turned to a frivolous life.
The first half of the book is adjustment to Aunt Charlotte’s lifestyle, with Veronica and Sophie being introduced to Society — and failing miserably. Veronica doesn’t believe her only goal in life should be to marry well. Sophie is disappointed with how frivolous and shallow the other girls appear to be and is less than impressed with the young men who are the would-be suitors.
Cooper doesn’t rush the story; just like in real life, things take time and it takes awhile to find one’s footing. Sophie and the others have a new home and country to adjust to, as well as trying to figure out what they can do regain their home from the Germans. They may have titles, but it’s from a powerless nation. They don’t have money and are financially dependent on Aunt Charlotte. With the exception of Simon, who is a commoner with no connections or cash, they are teenagers.
I adore Sophie, as well as Veronica. These two are fantastic! The only reason I’m glad that the laws prohibit Veronica from inheriting is I’m not sure she’d do well with the politics needed to be a ruler; she sure has the knowledge and history and integrity. I’d follow both of them anywhere, in exile or not. Toby — Toby, to be honest, tries my patience. Picture Sebastian from Brideshead Revisited. His chief talent is charm. He charms people well, and I am charmed — until I remember that he is also the King of Montmaray and his carelessness doesn’t just affect him.
The only thing “alternate” about this alternate history is that Montmaray doesn’t exist. Cooper weaves the fictional Montmaray and FitzOsbornes into the real events of 1937 to 1939. It’s not just people — though, that happens, also, with Sophie meeting young Kathleen Kennedy. It’s also more nuanced, such as considering how the German occupation of Montmaray was practice for invasion.
War is coming, the reader knows this; but it’s still fun to escape into the gaiety and parties, as Sophie does, with the Upstairs/Downstairs/Downton Abbey vibe.
Montmaray and its peoples are so real to me that I worry, worry not just how they will survive the war years but also what will happen with Montmaray. Toby is king, and he’s gay. I love how accepting his family is, but this means there is no heir, right? Unless a son of one of the princesses can inherit? But even if they can, Montmaray was dying before it was lost. The FitzOsbornes are impressive, yet, but how can they revive this island?
I guess the fact that I’m concerned about a fictional island is a big giveaway: this is one of my Favorite Books Read in 2012.