A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle CooperOctober 13, 2009; Knopf Books for Young Readers
Sophie Fitzosborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray with her eccentric and impoverished royal family. When she receives a journal for her sixteenth birthday, Sophie decides to chronicle day-to-day life on the island. But this is 1936, and the news that trickles in from the mainland reveals a world on the brink of war. The politics of Europe seem far away from their remote island—until two German officers land a boat on Montmaray. And then suddenly politics become very personal indeed.
A Brief History of Montmaray is a heart-stopping tale of loyalty, love, and loss, and of fighting to hold on to home when the world is exploding all around you. (courtesy of Goodreads)
A Brief History of Montmaray is a book that manages to be both simple and complex at the same time. It is the story of a girl living a mundane life in a poor, isolated island with her family and a few friends. But it is also a story filled with vibrant personalities, from Sophie's intellectual cousin Veronica to her tomboy little sister Henry. It is the story of a pivotal time in history, at the eve of World War II where the Nazis are already starting to make their mark.
Many people who review this book compare it to I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. I hate to repeat a tired theme, but it really did remind me a lot of I Capture The Castle. The feel of the books is the same. Unfortunately, I liked I Capture the Castle, but did not love it. I feel very much the same about A Brief History of Montmaray.
Let's start with what I loved. The characters. Without a doubt. Michelle Cooper created a group of quirky, charismatic characters who make you laugh more often than not. Sophie is a nice, fairly plain girl who is surrounded by extreme personalities. Henry has to prove to everyone she is all boy. Veronica has to constantly be intellectual. Rebecca has to be constantly unpleasant and worship mad King John. The list goes on. While the characters are eccentric, they are also well developed. By the end of the book, they are more than their quirks.
I also loved the idea of the book. Montmaray is a fictional island off the coast of England that has its own monarchy (I didn't realize it was fictional at first and had to Wikipedia it to find out). Sophie is part of the royal family, but other than her bloodline, she is as poor as a churchmouse. The book is very atmospheric. You feel the cold gloom of Montmaray, but also the beauty of the small, closeknit island. You'll wish to see the FitzOsborne castle even if it is one storm away from crumbling to the ground.
Now onto what I didn't like. It was dull. The plot didn't really get going until two thirds through the book. Then it moved fairly quickly and definitely held my attention. But until that point not much happened. By itself, that isn't a bad thing. The book is more character driven than plot driven and I definitely had a good feel for the characters. But there's a happy balance that one should reach between following along with the characters' relatively boring lives and an actual plot. This missed that balance.
Overall, A Brief History of Montmaray is a beautiful book with characters you'll quickly love. It is frustratingly slow at times, but still worth reading.