Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...
Cheers!: Just another excuse for you to get your drink on. You're welcome! See More...

Springtime is Coming

Warm up after a long cold lonely winter with Kazunomiya: Prisoner of Heaven.

Springtime is Coming

BOOK REPORT for Kazunomiya: Prisoner of Heaven by Kathryn Lasky

Cover Story: A Dream of Spring
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Word Crimes
Bonus Factors: Poetry, Sweets, God Complex, Japanese History
Relationship Status: Sassy Gay Friend

Royal Diaries Drinking Game

Take a sip when:
• There is talk of a betrothal
• The protagonist references the diary concept (i.e. apologizes for not writing often enough, has to find a hiding place for the diary, explains why she's writing in it to begin with, etc.)
• The protagonist wonders what it would be like to be a "normal girl"
• There’s a ball
• There's a trip to the marketplace
• Somebody makes a chess, puppet, or caged bird metaphor
• Somebody becomes deathly ill (pour one out if they die!)
• Somebody is poisoned or strangled or in some other way Ye Olde Murdered
• You wish you were a princess

Take two sips when:
• The protagonist becomes officially betrothed
• The protagonist suspects someone of reading her diary
• It's the protagonist's birthday
• Secret nighttime adventure!
• Possible Actual Magic/Spiritualism/Prophecy
• Obvious historical foreshadowing
• The protagonist becomes deathly ill
• You're really glad you're NOT a princess

Take a shot when:
• The protagonist gets hitched
• Another Royal Diarist is mentioned

Cover Story: A Dream of Spring

I love the colors used for this book jacket. Very pretty and springlike, which reflects both what's inside the book and what was outside my window as I read it! #synergy

The Deal:

As a member of the Japanese imperial family, Kazunomiya is not only a princess, but an actual goddess. Pretty sweet, right? Except that the imperial family has zero actual power; basically, they're just there to stand around looking pretty. The people actually in charge—members of the shogunate government—keep their "gods" confined to the palace, fail to pass along important information, and every so often decide to change Kazunomiya's birthday.* The situation is all the worse now that "white devils" have begun to arrive in the harbor, threatening the Japanese way of life with ruin. Inside the palace walls, Kazunomiya lives an isolated life, wrapped up in the elaborate protocol and rituals of the court. Without a definite birthday to hang on to, she's pinning all her coming-of-age dreams on her upcoming teeth-blackening ceremony...but even that might be taken away from her.

*This sucks for Kazunomiya, obviously, but it's great for the drinking game.

BFF Charm: Yay

I like Kazunomiya well enough. She's spirited, she's kind-hearted, she's stubborn in a good way. Her personality didn't come out as strongly for me as some of the other Royal Diarists, or even most of the other Kathryn Lasky-penned princesses, but she has an inner strength I found admirable. It's not always about leading a revolution to dismantle the system—sometimes it's just about quietly persisting in doing the right thing.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

There's actually a lot of "romance" in this Royal Diaries book, but unfortunately it had me yawning rather than reaching for the smelling salts. Technically you could say there's a love triangle, but considering the choice is between the guy Kazunomiya really wants to marry and the guy everyone is trying to force her to marry, it doesn't really count. Kazunomiya is supposedly "in love" with Prince Arisugawa, but we never really get any scenes or significant interactions between them. To some extent, this is a limitation of the diary format, but this felt like an extreme case where Arisugawa was mentioned only in the most vague and summarized terms possible. The "show, don't tell" rule is one I tend to think gets a bit overemphasized, but this book would've done well to apply it. (Also, although her lack of a definite birthday makes it a little tricky to figure out how old Kazunomiya actually is, she really didn't feel old enough to be "in love," even in a teenager-y way.)

Talky Talk: Word Crimes

Something weird happened to me as I read this book. I kept noticing instances of awkward phrasing, or sentences that could've used a comma, or places where it really seemed like Lasky should've started a new paragraph. I chalked it up to differences of stylistic opinion. And then I noticed an Actual Typo—an irrefutably incorrectly-spelled word—and I felt vindicated! But also disappointed. I love these books and believe in their high quality, but this one really seemed like it could've another pass of the editor's pen. Lasky's books in particular are some of my favorites, so I can't imagine what the reason for this could be—maybe she ran up against a deadline, or accidentally sent an earlier draft to the printer. These mistakes don't impact the story, but I couldn't help but be a more skeptical reader after noticing them.

Bonus Factor: Poetry

In addition to the diary entries, Kazunomiya writes a lot of poetry. Poetry is an important mode of communication in the imperial court; people have entire conversations by sending poems back and forth. Each poem, besides being very pretty and seasonally appropriate, can be deciphered for layers of hidden meaning. It's basically the most badass use of poetry you can imagine.

Bonus Factor: Sweets

Apparently Marie Antoinette wasn't the only princess who spent a lot of time eating cake. Lasky describes Kazunomiya's meals in great detail, and despite not being very familiar with Japanese desserts, my mouth started watering on more than one occasion.

Bonus FactorGod Complex

As alluded to above, Kazunomiya is descended from a sun goddess, making her a deity herself. This gets brought up a few times, but I honestly would've liked Lasky to have dug into it a little more—what is it like to truly believe yourself (and have others believe you to be) a god in human form? Voyeuristic inquiring minds want to know.

Bonus Factor: Japanese History

Like Kazunomiya, I felt frustrated by the lack of information about what was going on in the empire politically, especially with the incoming Europeans. But that frustration was probably the point. Lasky does do a wonderful job of vividly portraying 19th-century Japanese culture. I was struck in particular by the extreme aestheticism of palace life—the Emperor actually employs people to pick twigs out of moss and to rearrange fallen leaves in a more artful way. The moon-viewing ceremonies also sounded like a lot of fun.

Casting Call:

Sophie Oda as Kazunomiya

Relationship Status: Sassy Gay Friend

Book, I believe in you, but you need to work on yourself. I don't mean to be shallow—you've got a great heart and interesting characters, and your subject matter alone is fascinating...but your outside is kind of a mess. No offense, but I expect my dates to know how to spell. If you'd just let me give you a makeover, I could transform you with one quick sweep of my red pen...

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Kazunomiya: Prisoner of Heaven has been available for years, y'all. So get on that.

Maria Greer's photo About the Author: Maria is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do...something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.