Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Once upon an island: A Brief History of Montmaray, by Michelle Cooper

Once upon a time in a land far away, but not too far way if you’re English or coastally European, there was an independent kingdom named Montmaray.  Once a tiny island principality, the population has dropped to roughly a dozen, including the ruling family, the FitzOsbournes, comprised of our narrator, orphaned sixteen-year-old Sophie, her slightly ferral little sister, her cousin who records the history of the island, and her uncle, the king, who would have been declared legally insane long ago had they wanted to let that cat out of the bag.  The rest of the island’s shrinking population is a scattershot of loyal villagers.  Island life is rough - subsistence based and supplemented by a few ships that pass in a year - and hardly what you would picture for royalty, yet the FitzOsbournes make due.  They love their island dearly, crumbling castle and all, and often rely upon their rich aunt who provides for Sophie’s brother (the crown prince), who lives off-island to attend Eton.  The year, however, is 1936, and nations considerably larger than their own are beginning to test the waters; international politics becomes a hot topic amongst the Montmaravians and their loyal servants, one of whom may or may not be the apple of Sophie’s eye.  When a group of German “archaeologists” lands on shore, the FitzOsbournes are suddenly thrown into the deep end.  

This book has a slow start and potentially misleading cover (what is this, Wuthering Heights? Dracula? Lord Byron, are you there?) but an exceptionally strong finish!  I believe enchanted would be a word I would use to describe what this book did to me.  I read it in the spring solely because it’s on my (official) summer reading list, and I had contemplated recommending we cut it.  I’m so, so glad I gave it a chance, because I really loved it!  It has it all: castles, accents (I imagine, but whatever), intrigue, history, romance, danger, and yes...sequels that I’m dying to pick up!  We don’t have to walk away from these lovable, quirky characters! I give this two finger and two toe thumbs up, and recommend it for all school/YA library collections, along with those of the female persuasion aged 12 and up (there’s some medical violence that could be upsetting to younger readers but it’s otherwise cool), but dudes who maybe watch Downton, you should check this out too!  

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