Armed with only the knowledge of Lisa’s review of the first FitzOsborne book, I plunged eagerly into the sequel, The FitzOsbornes in Exile. As far as first impressions go, it was very Downton Abbey. (There’s even a BFF for Maggie Smith’s character in the person of Aunt Charlotte, an imperious imperial relic of a relative whose efforts to find suitable spouses for royal exiles Veronica, Toby, and Sophia go completely to waste. Simon she doesn’t care about because he’s illegitimate.) But amidst the whirl of fashionably cut dresses, the FitzOsbornes are also coming to grips with the loss of their home (see Book 1), making enemies out of the real-life Fascists on the (English) home front, and trying to promote the Montmaray cause even though no one important seems to care about such a tiny country, even if it was used as a practice run for the bombing of Guernica. In other words, the FitzOsbornes is like a more satisfying version of Downton Abbey season 2.
For starters, while both period dramas revel in Really Unlikely Plot Twists, the A word (absurd, if you were wondering) never entered my mind when I was reading about the FitzOsbornes. Author Michelle Cooper actually follows through with her plotlines, which is more than I can say about a tv series where people regain complete motor function after just one episode of paralysis and love obstacles are abruptly offed by Spanish flu rather than resolved in a responsible adult manner.
At least the FitzOsbornes are tenacious enough to champion the Montmarian cause through two books. They change and grow and persist, and that’s what makes their (somewhat symbolic) victory after Veronica’s rousing speech all the more satisfying than if she or Sophia had simply married a rich influential man who could solve all their problems for them. All the crazy side plots–thwarting lunatic maids and mysterious assassins, helping Basque refuges in more enduring ways than a charity ball, offending the royal family at Girl Guiding tea parties, and outsmarting the Gestapo all the way to Geneva–is just the icing on the cake.
Finally, even though Veronica and Simon loathe each other, Sophia’s always stuck playing mediator and messenger, Toby’s reliably irresponsible, and Henrietta’s just irrepressible, I like that the FitzOsbornes actually feel like a family rather than a group of elites forced into one room so they can trade witty barbs at each other. That’s probably also why the FitzOsbornes remind me of the Penderwicks so much, even though the Penderwicks are younger, American, and like each other a lot more. Another plus: the juxtaposition of real historical events (have you ever heard of the War of the Stray Dog?) against a fictional backdrop. It says a lot when the fictional characters are so compelling, they make you curious about really unknown historic events (like the War of the Stray Dog)!