When we last saw the FitzOsborne clan, they had just made a narrow escape from their island kingdom in A Brief History of Montmaray. Our narrator Sophie is continuing her journal from England. She has taken up residence on her Aunt Charlotte’s estate, along with her brother Toby, now king of Montmaray; her younger sister/tomboy Henry; her stunning and independently minded cousin Veronica; and Simon, who, unbeknownst to Aunt Charlotte, is the illegitimate son of Veronica’s father and therefore, “one of the family”.
Like any good aunt, Charlotte is determined to find suitable husbands for her princess nieces as well as a queen for Toby. Sophie, Veronica and Toby thus find themselves thrust into the world of Britain’s high society. Although Sophie enjoys the stylish parties, she quickly finds that members of the nobility are not all noble. Surrounded by superficiality, Sophie finds herself longing to return to Montmaray, now under the control of Nazi invaders. While Toby wastes his time drinking instead of studying at Oxford, Veronica and Simon struggle to devise a plan to regain their homeland.
Sophie shines as a genuine heroine whose virtues draw everyone into her confidence. She demonstrates remarkable compassion toward everyone in her family, even under duress. Sophie maintains a strong personal code of conduct and holds firmly to the principle that the ends never justify the means. She also does not hesitate to confront her relatives when necessary. And they certainly need to be called on the carpet. She takes Toby to task for throwing away his education while pining over Simon. Simon contemplates usurping the Montmaray throne, until Sophie reminds him that he is a bad influence on Toby and that their homosexual relationship is illegal.
Unfortunately, other characters in the story lack Sophie’s moral fiber. When a family friend (Julia) marries, the FitzOsbornes quickly discover that she had little intention of remaining faithful. Neither Veronica nor Sophie had much previous knowledge of marital intimacy, and Julia’s “advice” about condoms and choice of husbands scandalizes even Toby. Indeed, the only example of a good marriage in the book is that of Sophie’s parents, who are dead (and whom she does not remember). Simon, finished with Toby, has no problem using his charm to gain influence with women who can help the Montmaray cause. At the same time, the reader has no doubt that he finds himself intrigued by Sophie whose magnanimity and candor have turned her into a fascinating young woman. She also finds him attractive, though she appears to have the sense to look elsewhere for a spouse. They are, after all, first cousins.
Once again, Michelle Cooper has written an engaging novel with great literary style and complex characters. Sadly, younger readers may not be prepared to sift through the sketchy moral questions that permeate the book. One hopes that in any sequels to the FitzOsborne saga, the author will resolve all of these issues satisfactorily. For this reason, this series may be more appropriate for readers 17 and over.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher currently living in Ridgewood, NJ.