A couple of weeks ago, my friend B. (who sometimes comments here as the Baroness) mentioned A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile as being very Maureen-y books. Shortly afterwards, I was at the library* and happened to see the first one on the shelf. So I snatched it and settled down to read.
And, yes, these are very Maureen-y books. Which is a way to translate my slavering love for them into somewhat sane human-speak.
In A Brief History, we’re introduced to Sophie FitzOsborne, a sixteen-year-old Princess of Montmaray. Montmaray is a tiny island kingdom in the Bay of Biscay, where Sophie lives with her mad uncle, the king, his daughter Veronica, and her younger sister Henry. Her brother, Toby, the heir to the throne is off in England getting an education (in theory). The book is told in the form of diary entries through 1936.
And, yes, there are inescapable comparison to I Capture the Castle, as well what I read as down right references. This could have gone badly in several ways: it could have confused those who have never read Dodie Smith’s book,** or it could have alienated those who cherish it. In my opinion, Cooper manages to avoid either of these flaws, mostly by having her references be negative ones, slipped slyly into the story. For instance, the castle at Montmaray does not have a moat. For the non-ICC reader, they simply take that as a statement which makes sense in the context of its paragraph. For the ICC reader, there is a moment of triumph.
(The opening of the second book is especially notable for this: “I write this sitting at an exquisite little Louis the Fifteenth secretaire in the White Drawing Room…” It’s nothing like “I write this sitting with my feet in the kitchen sink,” and yet if the reader is familiar with the earlier line, it’s so clearly an echo.)
As a side note–this is the best kind of reference, in my opinion. Just the opposite of heavy-handed and understandable both to those in the know and those who don’t share the reference point. Like the dolphin ring in The Thief.***
But Cooper’s books don’t exist merely in a kind of literary vacuum, reliant on Dodie Smith. Sophie is not Cassandra, the FitzOsbornes are not the Mortmains, and the ways in which the two do intersect simply make the story more enjoyable. For one thing, Sophie is much more concerned with the wider world, especially in the second book, set in the hideous run-up to WWII. Against this difficult backdrop, Sophie, Toby, Veronica, Simon, and even Henry, must come to terms with the times they are living in, and come into their own. I found both books extremely compelling and enjoyable.
Although, there were only five Tudor rulers of England, not six.
These are the first two in a trilogy, with the third book being published next year. Can’t wait! (Yet another book to look forward too!)
Book source: public library for both
Book information: Knopf, 2009 and 2011 respectively; YA
* Despite the fact that I work at two libraries, this was a third library, which I was visiting specially. It has a larger collection!
** If this is you, what is WRONG with you? GO READ IT!
*** What, you think I can pass up an Attolia reference? HAH.