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The Great and Powerful

Our Royal Diaries review series comes to a fitting end with Catherine: The Great Journey.

The Great and Powerful

BOOK REPORT for Catherine: The Great Journey by Kristiana Gregory

Cover Story: Face Blindness
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: About the Subtitles...
Bonus Factors: Crossdressing, Women in Power
Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: Loyal Subject

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 (pour one out if she's right!)
• 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: Face Blindness

Overall, I really admire Tim O'Brien's Royal Diaries covers. They're all beautifully done portraits filled with specific details from the books—and in a world full of stock image covers, that's nothing to take lightly. But however lovely the surroundings, the faces almost always seem off to me. Even when contemporary images of the princess in question exist, O'Brien's version often looks nothing alike. Elisabeth, who was renowned for her beauty, looks constipated. Catherine, whose perceived lack of beauty is a continual source of anxiety for her throughout the novel, looks like she just stepped off the cover of Teen Vogue's December issue. Either Tim O'Brien has face blindness...or do.

The Deal:

Sophie—or "Figchen," as she is somehow lovingly nicknamed—is a princess, but only barely. By royal standards, her family is practically impoverished; her father doesn't even have his own title! But all that changes when the Empress of Russia decides that Sophie would make a good bride for Peter, heir to the Russian throne. In Moscow, Sophie gets assigned a new religion, a new language, and even a new name. (At least she gets to keep her own birthday.) Her future looks promising...as long as she can avoid offending the Empress, a famously temperamental woman whose favorite punishment for those who displease her involves a) cutting out the tongue and b) banishment to Siberia. And you thought your in-laws were scary...

BFF Charm: Yay

I've been really looking forward to Catherine: The Great Journey, for the exact reason that I knew next to nothing about her before reading this book. That's been true for several Royal Diarists—heck, it's been true for the last three reviews—but while I'd never even heard of Kaiulani, Nzingha, or Kazunomiya out of the context of this series, I feel like I've been hearing about Catherine the Great for a long time without ever absorbing any knowledge about just what made her so great.

That's quite a title to live up to, and to be fair, "Catherine" didn't earn it until later in her life than this book depicts. Sophie might not have blown me away with the force of her personality, but she did have a certain steely resolve that's easy to imagine coming in especially handy once she's officially HBIC. She's extremely dedicated to the idea of being a good ruler someday, which means she studies a lot (such a Ravenclaw!*), but she still seems like she'd be fun to hang out with. Plus, Sophie needs a friend that isn't her kinda awful fiancee, her definitely awful mother, or her poor dog in his little sailor outfit.

*Yeah, I've been sorting all the Royal Diary girls into Hogwarts houses ever since I realized there were exactly twenty of them. I have thus far refrained from working those categorizations into my reviews because I like to think I have a little thing called self-restraint...and since I'm not cramming all twenty decisions into this post, I think I'm right!

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

Peter, Sophie's fiancee, is terrible—and I don't just mean face-wise. He's seventeen years old with the interests and maturity of, at best, a twelve-year-old. (He's also Sophie's cousin, but that stopped phasing me long ago with the Royal Diaries books.) Sophie and Peter do form a friendship, which keeps the swoon rating from being in the negative, but even then he proves himself a fair-weather friend whenever Sophie's in trouble. Historical spoiler alert: At least Catherine ends up having him deposed in a coup! #badbreakups

Talky Talk: About the Subtitles...

Sophie likes to give her diary entries subject titles, like "About the Hangman..." and "Papa's Warning." Some might find this annoying, but I found it charming! After nineteen (nineteen!) iterations of the date/location-format heading (always in era-appropriate font), it's fun to mix things up a bit. I probably liked Kristiana Gregory's other two Royal Diaries entries better, but she certainly hasn't lost her touch here.

Bonus Factor: Crossdressing

Empress Elizabeth likes to throw balls in which the men dress up as women and vice-versa. It sounded like a lot of fun, and I was disappointed in Sophie for not being more into it (or less judgmental). You'd think she'd be relieved to take a break from the immense effort involved in dressing as an elite eighteenth-century woman.

Bonus Factor: Women in Power

This whole series is about women in power, of course*. But in almost every case, the princess or queen in question finds herself subject to a man's control—whether it's her father, brother, fiancee, father-in-law, or literally All Men, Because Patriarchy. The patriarchy is still firmly in place in eighteenth-century Russia, but this may be the Royal Diaries book in which women most dominate the proceedings. Not only is Sophie obviously better suited to inherit the Russian throne than Peter, but the current ruler of "all the Russias " is a woman as well. Even Sophie's mother outranks her father, who only figures into the first third or so of the book.

*Fun fact: Catherine the Great is one of only four Royal Diaries women to appear both on my Great Women Rulers ruler and my Female Monarchs desk calendar. Both of which were gifted to me after I started reviewing this series, proving that there's no lack of historically badass royal ladies out there if Scholastic ever decides to bring this series back... 

Anti-Bonus Factor:

Having said that, Sophie's father >>>> Sophie's mother. Sophie's mother is terrible. She's emotionally, mentally, and physically abusive to Sophie—and Sophie, heartbreakingly but realistically, loves her anyway. This is the first time we've seen a physically abusive parent/daughter relationship in this series, but it wouldn't surprise me if several of the other RD books were simply historically inaccurate in this regard.

Casting Call:

Isabelle Fuhrman as Sophie aka Figchen aka Catherine the Gr8

Relationship Status: Loyal Subject

Book, I know you get this all the time, but: you sure are great. And it's not just you, either—it's your whole damn family, all your...sisters, probably, in this metaphor where you're a person. Those of you I knew when I was a youngster were wonderful playmates and teachers, and are just as wonderful now as old familiar friends. Those I've just met as an adult have been amazing reads too, and while I'm sad I didn't meet you sooner, I'm happy I met you at all—and I'm happy for all the youngsters today who get to spend time with you and learn from you. What's not to love about a series that combines history, feminism, royalty, leopards, poisonings, Nostradamus, star-gazing, castles, fancy dresses, cross-dressing, ghosts, prophecies, best friendship, terrible made-for-TV movies, and a monkey that plays tennis? I'm going to be suffering from TEABS for weeks to come. Book(s), I pledge myself eternally as your loyal subject. Long live the Queen!

Special thanks to those who read along and left comments on this review series! This has been so fun, as a trip through Nostalgiaville, as a reading/writing experience, and as getting to be an official FYA contributor. Thanks for taking this journey—dare I say this "great journey"—with me!

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Catherine: The Great Journey 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.