Sophie FitzOsborne lives on the island of Montmaray with her sister Henry, cousin Veronica, Uncle John and their housekeeper Rebecca. Sophie has just turned 16 and suffers the usual self-doubt and anxiety about her looks and skills that many young girls have. She shares a loyal friendship with Veronica and suffers her sister’s eccentricities and aversion to reading with patience. Her uncle stays out of their way and they share a mutual dislike of Rebecca, who barely cooks and cleans, but who looks after them in her way.
So how is this different from other coming-of-age novels? Well, Montmaray is an island kingdom off the coasts of Spain and France. Uncle John is the king, Veronica is the princess royal and Sophie and Henry are princesses whose brother Toby, off at school in England, is heir to the throne. They live in a crumbling castle, have no money, and only rule over five villagers, who eventually end up leaving the island for Cornwall. Oh, and it is 1936, the Spanish Civil War is raging and they keep hearing news of Hitler’s activities in Germany. Last, but not least, King John is mentally ill and never leaves his bedroom.
Cooper takes all of these unusual plot elements and crafts them into a riveting, adventurous, horrifying tale. The story is told in a series of diary entries that Sophie pens at the urging of Veronica, who is passionate about keeping and preserving her kingdom’s history. The beginning of the novel concerns the typical thoughts of a teen girl as Sophie ponders her feelings for Rebecca’s son Simon and recites the domestic travails and tribulations of their family and friends in the village. The narrative subtly turns sinister, however, when two German men show up on the island for “research” purposes. The family then faces an immense struggle for survival that climaxes in a dramatically suspenseful ending.
I really admired and enjoyed this novel and am pleased that it is shelved in the young adult section. This is the kind of YA novel I wish more teens would read. It is a lovely blend of history, adventure, strong and interesting characters and humor. There is even a tinge of the supernatural included. This is the first in a trilogy, the second of which was published in the spring. I will definitely be continuing the series and look forward to reading about the further adventures of Sophie and her family.