Book Review: The FitzOsbornes at War by Michelle Cooper

FitzOsbornes at WarLast month the third and final instalment of the Montmaray Journals was published. If the blizzard of comments on sites such as Goodreads is anything to go by, readers are loving it even more than its predecessors, which is praise indeed. ‘Saving the best for last’, said one excited reviewer.  ‘I can’t believe there won’t be any more,’ wailed another.

The FitzOsbornes at War takes up Sophie’s story at the beginning of World War II. To recap a little, their island kingdom of Montmaray is now occupied by the Nazis and Sophie has now moved from her aunt’s country home to live in London with her cousin Veronica, doing a ‘useful’ wartime job at the Ministry of Food.

Compared with others in her family, Sophie wonders if she’s doing enough for the war effort. Her cousin Veronica has work as an interpreter for top military and diplomatic personnel in Spain. Her brother Toby enlists in the RAF along with Simon, who is tortured by the knowledge that he routinely sends men to their deaths. When Toby goes missing over enemy territory, Sophie endures months of waiting for his eventual return, only to hear first hand the emotional damage his harrowing experiences have done to him. It is a sign of her inner strength that she is the only person he feels he can confide in.

There’s a terrific twist towards the end of the book, where a beloved character is killed while on duty, and it seems in keeping with the book that Sophie’s own fate is similarly downbeat – there is love, true, but it is expressed in terms of quiet contentment amidst irrevocable loss, rather than blazing passion. It’s quite an adult theme for a book aimed at teenagers – proof that this is a series which has the capacity to move effortlessly into crossover territory.

This book is even more of a treat for history lovers than its predecessors. The imaginary world of Montmaray features less in the story than previously, and while some readers may miss the fantasy element, most would agree that the action has now moved onto a much larger stage.  London is the centre of politics now, and readers will relish immersing themselves in the chaos of living through the Blitz, knowing they’re in the hands of a meticulous researcher. There are dances (and kisses) with servicemen, food rationing, ‘fake’ stockings, shelters in Tube stations to withstand the fury of the German bombs – all vividly recorded. You can smell the smoke and taste the chicory coffee.

But while the book is wonderfully researched, it’s still a perfect example for would-be-authors about the importance of not allowing place and time to overwhelm an emotionally involving story of one girl’s journey to adulthood and the love and loss she encounters along the way. Its success is borne out by the numbers of fans who are, more than ever, engaging with the central cast of characters and investing considerable emotion in their eventual fate.

‘How could you not love Sophie FitzOsborne?’ asks one reader. ‘And the rest of her family that made me LAUGH and SHOUT at my book through the entire trilogy?’ And another reader, echoing the sort of passion usually reserved for characters from Twilight: ‘I was kind of hoping Toby would be able to find someone else, because I am an eternal optimist.’ And, another: ‘I just want to sit here and gush about how beautiful it is.’

She’s right.  This is a book (and series) worth gushing over. Quite simply, terrific.

Random House

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COMMENTS (1)

  1. Tracey Jones says:

    Although fictional, the book was wonderfully researched.

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