I first heard of Michelle Cooper's A Brief History of Montmaray a few weeks ago, when it was compared to Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, which I adore. So of course I had to find this.
And in some ways, there are a lot of parallels: both narrators are teenage girls, telling their story as journal entries; both live in a relatively reclusive world; and both live the paradoxical world of the impoverished nobility. Sophie is a princess, the niece of the King of Montmaray, a small fictional island somewhere between Spain and England. But she cleans the castle, cooks, and does laundry, as the populace of Montmaray is something less than ten people.
The narrator here is delightful: as a writer, it was interesting to see how the voice itself pulled me through the first half of the novel, which was quite slow. And for all that common writerly advice is that the main character has to want something and actively strive for it, Sophie's not that clearly drawn by her desires. Her role is primarily that of a passive narrator for much of the novel, though it's to her credit and the writer's credit that I still found her interesting and sympathetic.
Not much happens in the first part of the novel: Sophie pines over Simon, the housekeeper's son, who is living in London like her brother Toby, who's struggling with school. The king is mad, and Sophie tries to avoid him while curtailing the worst of her youngest sister's madcap behavior.
But then a pair of SS officers show up on the island ostensibly looking for clues to the Holy Grail, and the novel takes a sudden, and fairly dark, turn into adventure--the pace picks up dramatically at that point.
For all that I loved the narrator, I missed some of the delightful first romance in I Capture the Castle. So overall, a novel that I enjoyed but didn't love.