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Wild Awake
Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson
The FitzOsbornes At War - Michelle Cooper The third and final volume of the Montmaray Journals lands squarely at the intersection of what I wanted this book to be, and what I think it needed to be. Happily, those were not mutually exclusive outcomes, although “happily” feels like the wrong word to use. Because the ending of the trilogy was bittersweet, as most good endings are. It’s difficult to review The FitzOsbornes at War in great detail because SPOILERS, and not just for this book but for all three, as they are very connected. However, as the title states, the third book is the account of the FitzOsborne’s (exiled royal family of the fictional island of Montmaray) experiences throughout World War II.First of all, standing ovation for Michelle Cooper on writing an impeccably researched work of historical fiction. The attention to detail and factual accuracy is really impressive, and I say this as someone with an abiding love of historical fiction and aggressive loathing of anachronisms. The fatal flaw in some historical YA is a tendency to temper the narrative and characterisation with a contemporary outlook. But I’d argue that this isn’t necessary to create a story that’s engaging for a modern audience; history doesn’t need to be injected with a dose of Gossip Girl to make it relevant or interesting. Cooper’s plots remain firmly rooted in their respective time periods, but the themes are still compelling and her characters relatable. Granted, an interest in history / historical fiction is probably necessary to gain maximum enjoyment from the series, but I admire the integrity of the books to their setting. Cooper has written a masterful blend of fact and fiction, weaving historical figures and events into her characters’ story seamlessly. The inclusion of real life people of note – Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, the Kennedys, Unity and Deborah Mitford to name very few – doesn’t feel awkward or didactic. Rather, they are an organic part of the story, and integral to the period of history in which Sophie and her family lived. It hurts my head to think of the amount of research and fact checking required to write these parts of the story as authentically as Cooper does, but the end result is a story rich with historical context. Cooper brings this section of history to life: the Blitz, the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the Allied invasion of Normandy, and living conditions in England throughout the war are all vividly communicated through the lens of Sophie’s experiences. The human element of her personal emotions makes this novel more than merely a recounting of past events - it places the reader in the story, enables them to experience joy and grief, boredom and fear alongside her. Sophie’s narration really carries this series for me. While I came to love all of the characters and their dynamics, it’s her voice that brings the story to life. It would be easily to draw comparisons (or rather, similarities) between Sophie FitzOsborne and Cassandra Mortmain; A Brief History of Montmaray is in part an homage to I Capture The Castle, yet Sophie retains an individuality that I find very appealing. She’s self-deprecating, though not frustratingly so, and is rather more worldly-wise than Cassandra, which is occasionally revealed through the sharp edge of humour to her voice. Sophie’s growth throughout the series is evident – fitting, considering the amount of time the books cover – but especially in the last book, where her transition into adulthood is poignantly and realistically depicted. On the ending, which I desperately want to talk about but can’t for fear of wrecking the entire experience for others, I’ll simply say that it felt right. It’s a slightly surprising, yet brave resolution that feels like the right way to leave these characters. (For those with questions, Michelle Cooper has a Montmaray Q & A on her blog, but be aware that page is extremely spoilerific). The FitzOsbornes at War is my favourite book of the series, perhaps because it’s the most complex, the most difficult, and the most emotional. Cooper pushes the character further in this instalment, demands a heavier toll in the plot, yet delivers a greater reward in the conclusion. Overall, I think the Montmaray Journals are classics in the making, and their value will be enduring.