…owned just one dress and was quite penniless, she’d fit right in at Montmaray, the fictional island kingdom in Michelle Cooper’s A Brief History of Montmaray (Oct. 2009).
Like Mary, Princess Veronica FitzOsborne would love to inherit the estate, except she’s a girl, so the kingdom must pass to her (rather incompetent) male cousin Toby. Unlike Mary, Veronica isn’t worried about marriage because a) Montmaray is hundreds of miles off the coast of England, with no means of communication aside from occasional messages sent by passing ships b) Veronica would never leave Montmaray, and c) She’s too busy running the country to think about suitors.
We see all of this through the eyes of Sophie, Toby’s younger sister. Her journal provides excellent narration of their strange royal poverty, as they sell old family heirlooms for food and try to keep their drafty, cold (and possibly ghost-infested) castle inhabitable. The book is much more slice-of-life than your typical drama, and it reads like a classic in the style of I Capture the Castle. Sophie battles her first crush and tries to figure out her place in the family. Her personal journey keeps jostling for space with events in the larger world, because Europe is on the edge of World War II and no one knows what Montmaray should (or can) do. Things get even hairier near the end, when the Nazis show up as uninvited guests.
Sophie’s narration stole the show, because she’s so matter-of-fact about their ridiculous circumstances. She’s so good at describing life on the island that her personality gets overshadowed by Montmaray, with its secret passages, quirky history and ancient moldering library. I’d hop on the next plane there if the place actually existed. So it’s a good thing there are two more books in the Montmaray trilogy. Next up: The FitzOsbornes in Exile.