Friday, September 28, 2012

[Review] A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

(#1, The Montmaray Journals)
A Brief History of Montmaray | The FitzOsbornes in Exile |
The FitzOsbornes at War
Michelle Cooper
Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 01/08/2012
Publisher: Random House Australia
Pages: 290
Source: For review (thanks Michelle!)

Violence Sexual ContentProfanity

* There is very little violence or sexual content. There are bombs. Some people die. There's some homicidal implications, as well as implicated adultery.

My Rating:

My thoughts

I was on a Vintage Classics high, and that's when I discovered that A Brief History of Montmaray was being re-published. I commented on Michelle Cooper's (author) blog and I was just overcome by joy when she sent me an email offering me a review copy of her book. (She also signed it! <3) Guys! If you haven't heard of the Vintage Classics, seriously, get on it now. They're so beautiful, and what makes this line rise above the HC Penguin Classics line--they're cheap! And now, on to the review!


A Brief History of Montmaray is an epistolary novel—written in diary format—recounting the changing state of the tiny (fictional) country of Montmaray. 16-year-old Sophia shares fun and endearing stories of goings-on in the crumbling castle (sorry, 'fortified house'), as well as her many coming-of-age woes and worries. She, her cousin Victoria, her brother Toby and Sophia’s uncle King John are royalty. But in recent times there are as many people in the royal family as there are the common people. And with the Great War creeping its way to Montmaray, the FitzOsbornes will have to do what ever they can to protect their country, and each other.

Let me start off by saying I really like this cover! It's kind of subtle and muted, which is actually pretty reflective of what's inside the covers...

Since this book is written in diary format, be prepared to read a lot of everyday, mundane kinds of events that Sophia writes down. She talks about everything, from her crush on Simon (the only boy her age who isn't her brother), to housework, to the behaviour of their useless housekeeper Rebecca, to their financial problems, and so on. While that made the reading a bit slow at times, it was never wholly boring for me,
because this book is set in the past. So it's familiar but different, and while the fact that it was set in the past could have been made superficial, it wasn't. Because Michelle Cooper did her research. She incorporated real historical fact and figures, which really places you in the past.

By about halfway through, the book takes a major shift in pace and tone. Things turn scary for the FitzOsbornes, and in turn I was scared for them. I felt as though I was right there--because we got to know Sophia and these people living in Montmaray, so I cared what happened to them. I felt like I'd gotten to know them and, in part, that I was also living there. And that's where the main strength in this book is, in my opinion...

The characters
. Sophia! She's just an average girl and just so very, very relatable. She divulges in her journal entries every single aspect of her life, as well as the goings-on of everyone else living in Montmaray. Sophia is kind of a wallflower--she loves to read, she doesn't think she's that pretty or graceful, and she blushes whenever she's near her crush. And she dreams of luxury and her coming out ball, she's creative and honest. It's because this book is written in diary format that we really get to know Sophia. Without even realising it she'd become like a friend to me.

I feel like you should get to know these characters for yourself so I won't go through each and every one of them, and explain what they meant to me. I would have liked to have gotten to know the villagers a bit more, but I suppose they just didn't play such a big role in Sophia's life. Much of her focus is around her family (and Rebecca and Toby) and the castle.

A Brief History of Montmaray
has a distinct voice. Because it's written in diary format and because the writer of said diary is a sixteen-year-old girl in the 1930s. Therefore many of the passages are quite casual or informal, while others are a bit more proper (because of the time period and personality of Sophia). It was mostly easy to get lost in the pages, although I did get a bit lost with some of the historical and political discussion!

The romance in this book is hinted at, but nothing comes to fruition. I'm thinking in the next books there may be someone for Sophia...
though I have a feeling it's not Toby. I liked the exploration of Sophia's developing feelings for Toby, and then those feelings kind of ebbing away because of her doubts. The fact that he's the only boy on the island besides her brother. Because he's the only boy she's ever known, so she second-guesses and wonders if she only likes him because he's the only one around. And the fact that he's the housekeeper's son and she's royalty...

I love Montmaray. It reminds me a bit of Laputa from Castle in the Sky (and Gulliver's Travels, which Laputa in CitS is based upon). Even though this country does not exist, and never will, I felt like I was there. The island and the castle felt real, and I cannot thank Michelle Cooper enough for imagining Montmaray.

This book is just beautiful. Sophia shows so much strength--strength that she did not know was even there. By the end of the book she's changing, and consciously making an effort to be more responsible and less flimsy.

A Brief History of Montmaray is an intelligent, timeless and engrossing exploration of a fictional country’s history. Romantic and heart-warming, Michelle Cooper’s debut novel is exactly why I love historical fiction. Fans of classics such as Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and I Capture the Castle–and those who revel in stories about family, war, love, politics, and historical events–will love this, and will love Sophia and her colourful family!


First lines: 
*Photo taken by myself


‘Do you not know what your name means?’ he asked. ‘Wisdom. Sophia. What so many have searched for, so many years.’
(p. 164)

      I need to write down what has just happened. I need to set down the truth. If I write lies or if I write nothing at all, this journal is useless. I can do this. I must do this, in case . . . well, in case anything happens. Anything else happens.
     All right. This is what happened tonight, every single terrible thing that I can remember.
(pp. 170)
Someone needs to be in charge, in case anything happens. It’s about time it was me.

(p. 285)


This is an unofficial trailer but it's beautiful and perfect and right. If you watch this and STILL don't want to read the book, well then I have nothing more to say. Though I will say there's a lot more people than there should be.



Historical People in the book

Michelle Cooper's research process for the book
Maps & Sketches of Montmaray
My favourite Vintage Children’s Classic - I agree 100%

More book reviews

  • The Book Smugglers
    "I *love* Sophia’s voice, which breathes life into a surprisingly quiet story."

  • Persnickety Snark
    " a fantastic soup-a hearty stock, warm and dense, clean flavours and an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction when you're done."

  • The Heart is a Lonely Reader
    "...the kind of book that seems so effortless, it could have only come from an immense writing talent."

I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

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