Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper

The FitzOsbornes in Exile
by Michelle Cooper
August 2, 2010
Borrowed from Library
Amazon Page
Goodreads Page
Grade: A

Forced to leave their island kingdom, Sophie FitzOsborne and her eccentric family take shelter in England. Sophie's dreams of making her debut in shimmering ballgowns are finally coming true, but how can she enjoy her new life when they have all lost so much?

Aunt Charlotte is ruthless in her quest to see Sophie and Veronica married off by the end of the Season, Toby is as charming and lazy as ever, Henry is driving her governess to the brink of madness, and the battle of wills between Simon and Veronica continues. Can Sophie keep her family together, when everything seems to be falling apart?

An enticing glimpse into high society, the cut and thrust of politics as nations scramble to avert world war, and the hidden depths of a family in exile, struggling to find their place in the world.

I loved this book.  Like “it needs to come live with me right now” love.  But I’m not entirely convinced that all the readers of A Brief History of Montmaray will feel the same way.  While A Brief History... is a short book with spurts of adventure and action, FitzOsbornes in Exile feels much more like an ‘adult’ book set in late-1930s high English society.  There are debutante balls, politics, references to the Mitford sisters and British Fascists and the League of Nations, and a great cameo by a young Jack Kennedy.

So I think you need to be at least a little interested in interwar Europe or high Society to really enjoy this book.  Or possibly just too much in love with the wonderful FitzOsborne siblings.  Otherwise it may seem overly long and boring in places.

With that out of the way, I’ll continue!  We still get Sophie as our narrator though this time her journal entries are often from a much greater distance that in the first book.  I kind of loved how much the book felt like a real journal with Sophie often opening the entries with “I meant to be writing in this more often, but...”  Or maybe that’s just my journals that always end up that.  She’s definitely grown up after the events of A Brief History..., and I loved seeing how she’d matured (and continued to mature). She’s no longer the sweet, slightly naive girl - well, she’s still sweet - but she understands politics much more deeply and comes to play an ever more important role in Montmaray politics (otherwise known as the disputes within her family).  Sophie’s the girl that no one notices because she’s shy and quiet but who observes absolutely everything and then uses it to her (sometimes) slightly Machiavellian advantage.

It’s really interesting to see England as a whole and London Society through the lens of a girl who’s only ever lived on an island and barely known more than 15 people in her entire life.  Sophie, her cousin Veronica (my second favourite character in the books), and her little sister Henry all have to adapt to the expectations of girls - and Princesses! - by the upper class.  For all of them, the adaptation is difficult, but perhaps especially so for the incredibly intelligent and outspoken Veronica who can’t bear to play the sweet, silent debutante.  Her arguments about politics during dinners and parties are some of my favourite parts of the book.  As is Henry’s expedition to have tea with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at Buckingham Palace.

I didn’t mention it in my previous review, but I also liked the not-just-friends relationship between Toby (the new King of Montmaray and Sophie’s elder brother) and Simon (the ‘Lord Chancellor’ of their country).  The reactions of the older girls to the discovery of this relationship is perhaps a little too blase for the times, but watching both Toby and Simon try to decide if their connection is worth maintaining in the face of a society that wholeheartedly disapproves of it - not to mention the fact that Toby needs to produce an heir - was both interesting and a little heartbreaking. 

The climax of the book is just before World War II breaks out and occurs at a League of Nations meeting (seriously.  My little international relations-loving heart was a-flutter) which was again, very different from the first book and perhaps exemplifies the completely different tack this book takes.  The reader gets to watch Veronica come into her own, and it took everything I had not to stand up and cheer.  Well, also I don’t want people to think I’m entirely insane.

I’m thrilled to find out there’ll be a third book featuring the FitzOsbornes, and I look forward to reading it as soon as it comes out.  Like I said at the beginning, this book won’t be for everyone, but if you’re at all interested, I’d completely recommend it. 

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