1. A Brief History of Montmaray: ISBN 9781741663228 (2008)
2. The FitzOsbornes in Exile: ISBN 9781741663747 (2010)
3. The FitzOsbornes at War: ISBN 9781742750323 (2012)
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely
It’s a little unusual to review three books at once, but the Montmaray trilogy has just concluded with The FitzOsbornes at War, and I want to make sure as many people as possible know about this marvellous series!
I came across it by chance, when the second book came as an entry in one of the awards I judged a couple of years ago. Even though I had not read (or even heard of) the first book, I fell immediately in love with The FitzOsbornes in Exile – Cooper’s deft hand with filling in the backstory meant I didn’t feel lost by starting in the middle. The characters are so real you want to take them home and give them cups of tea to help them in their plight! I was hooked, but for one reason or another, did not actually get around to reading the first book until just this year, around the time the third of the trilogy was released.
The premise of the stories is interesting – Cooper has taken the real historical events leading up to World War II and thrown into the mix a fictional, impoverished, island kingdom near Great Britain, peopled by a mad king and his young kinfolk, daughter Veronica, nephew (and heir) Toby, Toby’s sisters Sophie (our narrator) and tomboy Henry, and the housekeeper’s son, Simon. The fiction is so cleverly interwoven with the fact that a reader might easily confuse the two, and this is part of the charm of the books. Cooper’s clever blending of historical events with the events of the story creates a powerful backdrop to the growth and maturation of the characters.
The setting moves from Montmaray in the first book to London and the countryside of England in the second, where Sophie, Veronica, Simon, Toby and Henry must learn how to cope with an aristocratic society they have not experienced, and a pre-war environment which threatens them all.
When war finally erupts in the final book of the saga, Sophie and Veronica find themselves not just waiting anxiously at home for news of Toby and Simon, who have of course joined up, but actively embroiled in clandestine work for the British government. Henry, too, wants to play her part, and refuses to be left at school while the rest of her family support the war effort. Suspenseful and heartbreaking, The FitzOsbornes at War will leave you breathless.
I cannot recommend this series highly enough. I haven’t even touched on the wonderful discussions on gender and sexuality that are seamlessly woven through the books, reminding us that while we speak more openly about such things today, they have always been present. Cooper writes beautifully, drawing history in detailed brushstrokes while always moving the action and characters forward. And while I can vouch for the fact that the trilogy can be read out of order with complete satisfaction, if you can start at the beginning, I have no doubt it will be even more powerful. An essential addition to any secondary school library!