Michelle Cooper’s A Brief History of Montmaray: Downton Abbey for Teens
If I had a dime for every time someone (yes, publishing world, I'm looking at you) said something was like "Downton Abbey," I'd probably have enough money to buy my very own Downton Abbey. On the surface, "Downton Abbey" and Michelle Cooper's A Brief History of Montmaray share similarities -- both are about British families right before a world war starts and both have their fair share of drama. But in reality, A Brief History of Montmaray, is much more closely related to I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith's often-overlooked classic about an impoverished English family living in a castle in the 1930s. So maybe using "Downton Abbey" was a semi-cheap ploy for your attention. But A Brief History of Montmaray is so good that I'm willing to resort to gimmicks just so you'll pick it up and read it.
For any fans of I Capture the Castle, this should automatically sell you on A Brief History of Montmaray, which is also about an impoverished family living in a crumbling castle in the '30s -- but this time, the family is royal. Sophie FitzOsborne and her sister live with their beautiful cousin Veronica and her father, the mad King John, in the fictional island kingdom of Montmaray, located just off the southern coast of England. The book is perfect at capturing that period feeling; Sophie's voice matches exactly how you'd expect a sixteen-year-old to sound in 1936. Sophie writes in her journal about everything that happens in the small island kingdom, including sharp observations like, "There's a fine line between gossip and history, when one is talking about kings."
The book picks up with the arrival of two German soldiers in Montmaray. Suddenly, the looming war that seemed so distant is right on their shore. What follows next is the fight to hold onto home when the world seems to be exploding.
Michelle Cooper writes beautifully, and the pacing and plot are spot on. This is a work of young adult historical fiction that you will not want to miss.
Tags:A Brief History of Montmaray|Coming of Age|Downton Abbey|England|Family|Michelle Cooper|Royalty|WWII
Happy birthday to my favorite little sister! I've been trying to recollect the day you were born so I can gush about it in an appropriately sentimental fashion, but I'm afraid it's all a blank. I must have been too busy pulling Veronica's hair or smearing stewed apple over my smock to notice you popping into existence. I do remember Henry's arrival ten years ago, and if you were anything like her, you were a most unattractive baby--wrinkled, red-faced, loud, and rather smelly. Lucky for all of us that you've improved somewhat with age.
Now, did the presents arrive safely? I had to go all the way to Knightsbridge for the journal, and then I got detention for sneaking off from Games, so I hope you appreciate it. You can use it to write down your thoughts. You must have plenty of them at the moment, given Aunt Charlotte's letter--I assume you've read it by now. Are you thrilled? Terrified? Well, it's all your fault for turning sixteen--you gave Aunt Charlotte quite a shock when she realized how old you'd suddenly become. She had to sit down and have an extra-large sherry to recover.
As for me, this new school is almost as ghastly as the old one. I suppose I'd been hoping Rupert would come too when I was thrown out of Eton, but his parents keep saying no, worse luck. The House Masters have finally sorted out dormitories, and now I share with three boys. Two are in the Rugby First XV, ugh. The other has noxious feet and learns the bagpipes, so is nearly as bad. I have already had two detentions, one for missing Games on Saturday and one for not doing Latin prep. The Latin prep wasn't my fault. I didn't know there was any prep because the Latin Master told us about it in Latin and I didn't understand a word he said.
Remember, I am in MarchHare House, so please make sure you put that on the address when you write, otherwise the letters might get lost. It's a good House to be in because it inevitably comes last in the House Cup, so no one cares much when I lose House points. The other good thing about MarchHare is that we can climb out the top-story windows onto the roof and look into the hospital next door, which is very educational. Also, sometimes the nurses come out onto a balcony to smoke, and they throw us a cigarette if we beg nicely.
It's almost lights-out, so I'd better finish. Tell Veronica to come and live in my trunk so she can secretly do my Latin prep for me. She could write my History essay as well, it is on the Restoration. And ask her to bring Carlos with her so he can eat the bagpipes.
Love from your wonderful brother,
As usual, Toby's letter was coded in Kernetin, which Toby and my cousin Veronica and I invented years ago so we could write notes to each other without the grown-ups being able to read them. Kernetin is based on Cornish and Latin, with some Greek letters and random meaningless squiggles thrown in to be extra-confusing. Also, it is boustrophedonic (I adore that word and try to say it as often as possible, but unfortunately it hasn't many everyday uses). "Boustrophedonic" means you read one line left to right, then the next right to left. Veronica can translate Kernetin straight off the page into English, but I find it easier to write it out, so there it is, my first entry in my new journal. It has a hundred blank pages thick as parchment, and a morocco binding, and is almost too lovely to write in.
I did get some superb birthday presents this year. Veronica gave me a pen with my initials on it. From my little sister, Henry, came a new Pride and Prejudice, because I dropped my old one in the bath and it hasn't been the same since. (Henry, who wishes she'd been born a boy, looked quite disappointed when I opened the journal from Toby--she'd probably told him to get me one of those pocketknives with attached magnifying glass, screwdriver, and fish-scaler, hoping that I'd then lend it to her.) The villagers presented me with a honey-spice cake, a lavender pillow, and a beautiful comb carved out of driftwood. Uncle John doesn't even know what year it is, let alone the date, so I never expect so much as a "Happy birthday" from him, but Rebecca, our housekeeper, gave me the day off from washing up the breakfast dishes. Even Carlos, our Portuguese water dog, managed a birthday card, signed with an inky paw-print (now I understand why Henry was being so secretive yesterday and how the bathtub ended up with all those black streaks).
And then there was Aunt Charlotte! I opened her letter long after breakfast was over because I couldn't imagine her approving of anything as indulgent as birthdays, but that turned out to be the most exciting part of the whole morning. I won't copy it all out, most of it being her usual scoldings about our idle, extravagant lives here on Montmaray, and do we think she's made of money, and so on. But here is the important part:
._._._and now that you are sixteen, Sophia, I am reminded yet again of the sad burden I have been forced to bear since my youngest brother and his wife were so cruelly torn from this world, God rest their souls. My only comfort is knowing how grateful Robert and Jane would be if they could see all that I have done for you children.
However, my responsibilities are not yet complete, and your mother in particular, Sophia, would have wanted you to be given the same social opportunities she had. As for Veronica, it is not her fault that her feckless mother is who-knows-where and quite unable to make appropriate arrangements regarding a matrimonial match. I feel it is my duty, then, to sponsor your debuts into Society. We cannot postpone this event much longer, in light of your advancing ages.
I expect early in the new year would be the best time for both of you to travel to England. I leave it to Veronica to write to Mr. Grenville regarding steamer passage and railway tickets. In the meantime, I shall begin perusing the Almanach de Gotha for eligible prospects_._._.
From the Hardcover edition.