The FitzOsbornes in Exile
I was repeatedly drawn back to this book, only to remember (with a little shock of disappointment each time) that I’d already turned the last page. It’s a classic story of four young orphaned royals who must take on the adult task of righting a grave injustice. Its setting, Britain of 1937-1939, accentuates that timeless feel – akin to Swallows and Amazons or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – but for an older readership.
Their Royal Highnesses the FitzOsborne cousins have fled to Neville Chamberlain’s Britain after Nazis bombed their island kingdom. Now they’re the wards of an overbearing aunt who wants them to forget their home and focus instead on marrying well. Plain Sophie (compared to her beautiful cousin Veronica) tells the story through her journal, a technique the author, Michelle Cooper, pulls off perfectly. She also creates the FitzOsbornes’ mundane little kingdom, Montmaray, located in the Bay of Biscay, without making the story feel whatsoever like a fantasy or alternate history. Both teen and adult readers will be charmed by the FitzOsbornes: sensible but surprisingly Machiavellian Sophie; radical Veronica, mourning Montmaray’s library’s destruction but busy making enemies of Britain’s Fascist-sympathizing upper crust; 11-year-old tomboy Henrietta, leading her troop of girl scouts on commando missions; golden and gay young king, Toby, who prefers partying to studying at Oxford and is in love with Veronica’s handsome illegitimate half brother, Simon Chester. For his part, Simon is tempted by envy of his legitimate relations.
The FitzOsbornes in Exile chronologically follows and frequently references Michelle Cooper’s earlier book, A Brief History of Montmaray (The Montmaray Journals), which is now on my reading list. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to a sequel!