A Brief History of Montmaray is the journal of the sixteen-year-old Princess Sophia FitzOsborne of Montmaray, a tiny island located in the Bay of Biscay, founded in the 16th century by an Cornish aristocrat who fled England after an affair with Katherine Howard (Henry VIII's fifth wife). There is of course no such island but Cooper has created a fascinating history for this fictional island and interweaves it with real history (the island helped fight off the Spanish Armada and the castle's curtain wall boasts a hole from when Napoleon fired on the island).
However, when two SS men turn up one day, the seemingly distant Spanish Civil War and the increasing power of the German Nazis begin to have ramifications for Montmaray. One of the men is a real historical figure, Otta Rahn, who is convinced that the Holy Grail might be located on Montmaray.
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And what Aunt Charlotte wants most of all is to see Sophie, Veronica, and Toby married well, which is problematic, as Veronica is (by society standards) overly intellectual and overly political, which is rather troublesome in the days of Appeasement. And Toby, the new king of Montmaray, is gay. Veronica and Sophie don't care, but they are also acutely aware that homosexuality is in fact illegal, so Toby had best not get caught.
This book follows Sophie and her family through three London Seasons, through helping Basque refugee children after the horrific bombing of Guernica, and on their quest to reclaim Montmaray from the Nazis. The last entry of Sophie's diary in this book is 23 August 1839. I read the last pages with a sense of dread. The Germans marched into Poland on 1 September 1839.
These are fantastic books, especially for anyone interested in the Brideshead Revisited/interwar era and stories of crumbling aristocratic, eccentric families. Cooper has obviously done her research, down to very small details (for instance, that von Rippentrop earned the nicknamed von Ribbensnob while ambassador in London). There is a lot of history and politics and diplomacy, so that these books actually reminded me a bit of the political manoeuvring in Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief books.