A Brief History of Montmaray

Written by Michelle Cooper
Review by Elizabeth Jane

The island kingdom of Montmaray is fictitious. Its royal house never existed. But everything else about this delightful historical novel – its voice, its context and its detail – is grounded in research.

Set in the year 1936, The Brief History of Montmaray is the diary of Sophia Fitz Osborne, niece to the kingdom’s reigning monarch, King John. Sophie’s brother Toby is heir to the throne of Montmaray. But he is away at school. Sophie lives on the island with her cousin Veronica, her younger sister, Henry, her mad uncle, the king, and a handful of loyal retainers. The castle is crumbling, war is brewing in Europe and Sophie’s Aunt Charlotte has decided it is time for the girls to leave their island home and take their place in society.

Sophie’s last days on the island are marred by death, the emergence of deep family secrets, her growing affection for Simon Chester, the housekeeper’s son, and a mysterious visit from Nazi officials. But this is no vacuous secret diary. Through Sophie’s interaction with two unexpected groups of visitors we experience the aftermath of World War One, which killed many of the island’s male inhabitants, the turmoil of Spanish Civil War, and the impending disaster which became World War Two. In the midst of political upheaval, Sophie grapples with issues of love, identity and truth. Her voice is vivid and engaging, her inner growth real and profound. By the end of the book she is ready to take her place in society. But her interests have grown beyond dress shops, parties and cinemas.

This is an excellent book for teenage girls with an interest in history, a weakness for crumbling castles and a desire to see beyond the princess myth without becoming completely disillusioned. I couldn’t put it down.