A Brief History of Montmaray, by Michelle Cooper

I have never learned to love Dodie Smith's novel I Capture the Castle. I don't care how classic it is: if I spend 99% of a novel thinking wistfully of giving all of the characters a swift kick to the shin, I'm just not a fan.

Michelle Cooper's A Brief History of Montmaray, however, offers many of the pleasures of I Capture the Castle and few of its drawbacks. The novel is set in 1936 and told from the perspective of Sophia FitzOsborne, a sixteen-year-old girl living in a decrepit castle on the tiny island nation of Montmaray. Technically, Sophie is one of Montmaray's princesses, but when there are an equal number of villagers and royals (and more chickens than either) titles don't mean much. Working alongside her lovely, brilliant cousin Veronica, Sophie spends her days struggling to keep the crumbling castle from falling apart completely. She has little time to worry about the war brewing in Europe, but when Montmaray's deranged king—Sophie's uncle—murders a German officer, politics take on a horrifying new significance.

Apart from a few overheated domestic dramas, A Brief History of Montmaray is 294 pages of awesome. Sophie is thoughtful, funny, and braver than she gives herself credit for. The supporting characters (particularly the younger ones) are sharp and interesting. The castle and surrounding island are fantastic creations—shabby and wild, but full of tattered testaments to past glories—and fans of everything from The Boxcar Children to The Secret of Roan Inish will get a vicarious thrill out of Cooper's take on Extreme Housekeeping: Remote European Island Edition.

While A Brief History of Montmaray ends on a satisfyingly conclusive note, I was relieved to see that Cooper is working on a sequel. Her novel would have been fine as a standalone, but plenty of story was left untold—relationships were undefined, and the eventual fate of the island is left up in the air. I have no idea where Cooper will take this story next (not, hopefully, in any direction reminiscent of the later chapters of I Capture The Castle), but I am unusually eager—read: willing to buy the hardback version as soon as it is released—to find out.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


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