About the Book

Title: Sŏndŏk: Princess of the Moon and Stars, Korea, A.D. 595 (The Royal Diaries #11)
Published: 2002
Series: The Royal Diaries
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Starry, Starry Night
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: As You Know, Grandmother
Bonus Factors: Astronomy, STEM Girls, Spiritualism
Anti-Bonus Factor: Terrible Teacher
Relationship Status: Zodiac-Approved Soulmates

The Official FYA Royal Diaries Drinking Game: Updated Again Edition

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 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 (or culturally equivalent celebration)
  • There’s a secret nighttime adventure!
  • There’s 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: Starry, Starry Night

This cover is straight-up GORG. At a glance, about half the Royal Diaries books have blue covers, but Sŏndŏk is far and away the deepest and darkest hue. The starry night sky of the illustration seems to blend into the surrounding cover, creating an illusion of infinite cosmos. Let’s all give Tim O’Brien a round of applause.

The Deal:

As the eldest of three royal sisters and in the absence of any brothers, Sŏndŏk is the begrudgingly admitted heir to the throne of Silla. Not only is she set to inherit a job which everyone believes can only be performed by men, but her favorite hobby (okay, obsession) isn’t exactly women’s work either. Sŏndŏk always has at least one eye fixed on the heavens. She loves nothing more than to observe the night sky, charting the course of the stars and working out complex astronomical equations. Unfortch, her dad has Henry VIII syndrome, and as he becomes increasingly desperate to have a son, Sŏndŏk finds herself ever more questioning her destiny as written in the stars.

BFF Charm: Yay!

Yay BFF Charm

I seriously considered giving Sŏndŏk an extra-sparkly BFF charm. But as soon as I did, I started to question my entire system up till now—in retrospect, shouldn’t I have given extra-sparklies to Cleopatra, Jahanara and Redbird as well? And in that case, I probably should’ve given Elizabeth a platinum BFF charm. It’s kind of like putting together the invite list for your twelfth birthday party, where you start by inviting your very best friends, and then you have to include your less-best-friends, and then if you invite them you have to invite that girl who’s kind of a friend but kind of more an acquaintance, and the next thing you know that weird kid in homeroom who still picks his nose is showing up at the bowling alley for your party. So I’m keeping it a regular BFF charm, which, in all fairness, still means “BEST friends FOREVER.”

Anyway, Sŏndŏk is great. She’s incredibly passionate about her interests (girl would have no problem getting into college), and has enough conviction to nurse a bit of a rebellious streak when various people try to stop her from pursuing them. Still she tries very hard to be a good friend, daughter, student, sister, and queen-in-training. I sympathized with her desire to be all things to all people, and I admired her strength at dealing with all the shizz that Sheri Holman (and, you know, the historical record) threw at her.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

This is the highest swoon rating I’ve yet given a Royal Diaries book, and one of the few I don’t feel obligated to preface with various qualifiers! (Both Cleopatra and Lady of Ch’iao Kuo had swoon, but the former was marred by a creepy age difference and the latter may have been entirely in my own head.) The best way to describe Sŏndŏk and Chajang’s relationship is, honestly, star-crossed. First it seems like Obstacle A will keep them apart, which is then compounded by Obstacle B, and by the time Obstacle A is removed Obstacle B seems so firmly entrenched it doesn’t even matter. Luckily Sheri Holman writes the relationship so well that it stays on the good side of frustrating.

Talky Talk: As You Know, Grandmother

Various Royal Diaries books have tried to explain around the fact that their protagonists would not have kept diaries IRL, due to lack of a writing system or the format just not having been invented yet. Honestly, the less the authors draw attention to it, the happier I am just to suspend my disbelief. Sŏndŏk’s diary is framed as notes she’s writing to her grandmother’s spirit. These notes include a lot of explaining things you’d think Grandma would already know, like the name of her son or what kimchi is. The phrase “as you know, Grandmother” actually occurs several times in the book. Otherwise Holman’s writing is lovely; it’s too bad that this is her only entry in the series.

Bonus Factor: Astronomy

Silhouette of person standing under starry sky

In case it wasn’t clear enough already, astronomy plays a HUGE role in this book. Even more obvious statement: astronomy is awesome. I took an astronomy class for about a week before realizing it involved way more math than I’d bargained for. You’ve really got to admire ancient astronomers, who not only saw beautiful images in the stars but figured out the mathematical formulas which explained their progress across the sky.

Also, Chris Evans likes astronomy. So there’s that.

Bonus Factor: STEM Girls

Women from Hidden Figures

When I first mentioned to a friend that I was undertaking this review series, she mentioned Sŏndŏk and how much it had meant to her as a kid that the Royal Diaries books included the story of a Korean princess. I think Sŏndŏk’s story could also be very meaningful for young girls interested in the STEM fields. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the underrepresentation of women in careers having to do with science, technology, engineering, and math. I’m not incredibly qualified to talk about this issue (see my astronomy anecdote above), but I love that this is a story about a princess who loves math.

Bonus Factor: Spiritualism

Sŏndŏk feels caught between three different religions and ways of life: the old superstitions of her people, the Buddhism her family has adopted from India by way of China, and the Confucian wisdom which her Chinese tutor is trying to impart. I admit I’m not really a fan whenever a Royal Diaries book takes the “historical foreshadowing” rule of our drinking game and turns it into full-on prophesying—I’m here for historical fiction, not fantasy—but Sŏndŏk’s brushes with the supernatural are certainly compelling.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Terrible Teacher

Lin Fang, Sŏndŏk’s Chinese tutor, is just the WORST. He’s rude and belittling and pompous and cruel and misogynistic as all get-out. When I was the age of this book’s target audience, I thought feminism (really, “girl power”) was just some jerk claiming that girls can’t play baseball and then a girl proves that she totally can and then everyone goes out for milkshakes. That’s what at least 50% of DCOMs taught me. The social forces in this book, and the character of Lin Fang in particular, are sober reminders of how much more insidious the undervaluation of women’s abilities, capacities, and mere existence really is. The good thing about Lin Fang is that he provided a lot of opportunities for Sŏndŏk to score “You go, girl!” moments.

Relationship Status: Zodiac-Approved Soulmates

Book, ours was the blindest of blind dates. I was hoping we’d hit it off, but I admit that my mind was still preoccupied with my last relationship and I was a bit reluctant to move on, especially across an entire continent and back 1300 years. But then I met you, and your inside turned out to be just as beautiful as your outside. It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen so hard and so fast. Good news, Book—I checked my horoscope today, and you and I are a perfect match.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Sŏndŏk: Princess of the Moon and Stars has been available for years, y’all. So get on that.

About the Contributor:

Maria Greer 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.

This post was written by a guest writer or former contributor for Forever Young Adult.