I am sure I’ve said before that I cannot resist a well-told war story. Add quirky characters, romance, heartbreak, and a sweeping scope, and I’d say you’re talking about my perfect book, or you might well be describing Michelle Cooper’s first class novel, The FitzOsbornes at War. I finished this book, the last in the Montmaray Journals trilogy, this morning, and the moment after reading the final word I wanted to go back to Book 1 and begin all over again. It has earned a place on my all time favourites shelf, right beside the first two in the series (after I get all of them for Christmas, that is).
In the second book, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, the royal family of Montmaray is forced to flee their home when the Nazis invade their remote island kingdom. They found refuge in London, and in Book 3, they discover they cannot escape the war and its tragic consequences. King Toby and his cousin Simon join the RAF, Princess Veronica translates for the Foreign Office, Princess Sophie works (rather reluctantly) for the Food Ministry, and Princess Henry just wants to do anything but go to boarding school. Rounding out the cast are other familiar faces from the first books, as well as famous historical figures. Cooper weaves fact and fiction together into an entirely convincing and deeply satisfying narrative.
The prime reason why this book will take such hold of you is Sophie’s voice. Like its predecessors, The FitzOsbornes at War is written as Sophie’s diary. Sophie FitzOsborne springs off the page, lively and opinionated and yearning for love and happy endings for everyone she cares about. Thanks to her voice, as well as the wonderful level of day to day detail in the story, you leave this book feeling that you have some understanding of what it could have been like to come of age during such a desperately hard period of history.
Finally, do yourself a favour. Do not make the same mistake I did. Do not go hunting around at the back of the book just to see what’s there. If you do, you might find the Family Tree hiding back there and then you may not be able to look away and then your eye will wander until you see things, spoilerish things that you never wanted to see at all. It is saying something about the brilliance of this book that I found said spoilerish things and I still loved every single minute of the story as I read it.
I really, desperately, want there to be more story, more FitzOsbornes, more Montmaray. Please, Ms Cooper, we’ll read it, we promise. Or at the very least, please, someone out there who produces brilliant British miniseries, get working on this already, so that we will have something to watch once Downton Abbey is done.
You may want to take a look at Michelle Cooper’s blog series, How to Write a Historical Novel in Seven Easy Steps, beginning here. Easy? Right. If you’re Michelle Cooper…
The FitzOsbornes at War is published by Knopf.
(Are you listening, Santa?)