My 2 cents:
Michelle Cooper doesn't miss a beat. Not one. The FitzOsbornes in Exile begins where the prequel, A Brief History of Montmaray, leaves off – with Princess Sophia at Aunt Charlotte's sumptuous England estate.
“I write this sitting at an exquisite little Louis the Fifteenth secretaire in the White Drawing Room, using a gold fountain pen borrowed from the King of Montmaray (Toby), and a bottle of ink provided by one of the footmen. Fortunately, the paper is just a six-penny exercise book that I bought in the village this morning – otherwise I'd be too intimidated to write a word. Anyway, here I sit, scribbling away in my journal on this first full day of my new life.” (p. 3)
Sophia's new life in London is quite the contrast from her life at Montmaray. Remember the smoking stove, Vulcan, and Sophia huddled under dusty covers under a leaky roof to write her journal entries. In this second novel of the Montmaray series, Cooper's writing is stellar. It's concise, sparkling and really funny. Mostly, because the characters are sparkling and funny. “Exile” is set in the months leading up to WWII, from January 1937 to August 1939. Princess Sophia tells the story of her family: her younger sister, Henry (Henrietta), older brother, Toby, and cousin, Veronica. The four have been orphaned by a car bombing in Spain (Sophia's mother and father), and a fatal stroke (Veronica's father, King John), provoked by an unfriendly encounter with two German soldiers. The ensuing air assault destroyed the Montmaray castle and forced the four to flee in exile to London, along with Simon Chester and his mother, Rebecca. Meanwhile, the island is most likely being used as a landing base for German airplanes. Aunt Charlotte, who is very rich, very stern and now widowed, focuses her free time on raising horses, trying to find suitable marriage partners for Sophia, Veronica and Toby, and educating wild, young Henry. Not counting her prize horses, it's an uphill battle for Aunt Charlotte, given the fact that Toby fancies Simon, Aunt Charlotte's male secretary, and Veronica is consumed with the dangerous task of exposing Germany's aggression toward Montmaray. Henry goes through governesses like water through a colander, and Sophia … well, Sophia is the keeper of the journals. She becomes friends with a boy (and animal lover) named Rupert, but she also has a bit of a crush on Simon, as well. Also, Sophia is learning to find words to voice her growing opinions on, well, just about everything going on around her. Which is a lot.
“I do make a habit of observing people,” I said. “Not just you. It's simply that there weren't many other people to observe at Montmaray.” (p. 35-6, an excerpt from Sophia in a pivotal conversation with Simon).
Henry's assessment of her first riding lesson is hilarious, (p. 61):
“Well! You won't believe it!” exclaimed Henry. “I had to put both my legs on one side, in this silly girls' saddle! I thought it would be like pictures of cowboys, a leg on either side of the horse. How else is one supposed to stay on? But Aunt Charlotte says that only boys get to ride like that! It's the stupidest thing! It ought to be the other way round. It's boys who have dangling bits between their legs – they ought to be the ones riding sidesaddle!”
The novel weaves true bits of historical facts into Sophia's journal, like Hitler's progressive take-over of European countries, his propaganda campaign and cruelty toward Jews. Oddly, even with the dark cloud of WWII stories as a backdrop, I laughed out loud throughout the book, especially at Veronica and Toby's intense discussions. Cooper has a brilliant flair for dialogue.
In closing, let me just say this, if The FitzOsbornes in Exile is ever made into a movie, I nominate Taylor Swift to play the part of Sophie. Taylor fits the part, down to the light blonde hair, fair skin and penchant for spilling her guts onto paper. And, just imagine the songs Taylor could write about all the relationships in this novel … and the scenery and costumes from late-30's London. Just … wow!
LENGTH: 450 pages
WORTH YOUR TIME: Yes! For the history, the dialogue and the characters – yes, yes, yes!
Helpful Hint: Recommended Reading (also by Michelle Cooper
A Brief History of Montmaray (Book I of the Montmaray Journals)