Author: Sheri Holman
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: The Royal Diaries
I was a little surprised when I came across this book, because I hadn't realized that Korea existed as far back as the 6th century. Actually, though, while the book is set in the area we now know as Korea, it didn't exist as the nation of Korea at the time. Instead it was divided into a few small kingdoms who were constantly at war with one another, all the time worried that they would be overrun by their enormous next-door neighbor, China.
In the midst of all this we find Sondok, oldest daughter of a king with no son in a culture that doesn't believe a woman should rule. These circumstances have left Sondok torn in many directions. Her love of the stars and the belief that the king controls what goes on in the heavens drive her to spend countless nights measuring, calculating, and tracking the movements of the celestial bodies in preparation for the day when she is king after her father. Astronomy is considered a man's task, though, too high for a woman. Sondok is also torn between honoring the ancient shamanistic religion of her native land and embracing the new religion, Buddhism, being introduced from China.
There is hardly any historical information about Sondok today, but using what little there is I think Sheri Holman did a great job on this book. The look into the ancient culture, from shaman rituals to everyday tasks like feeding silkworms, was fascinating. And of course, anything containing astronomy is intriguing to me.
The book is, of course, written in journal form, and the entries are addressed to Sondok's grandmother who is deceased. Sondok has been given the task of caring for her grandmother's spirit, which the family believes resides in a jar they keep in a place of honor in their home. Sondok frequently mentions that she offered fresh rice or wine to her grandmothers 'spirit jar' and that each journal entry is written on a slip of paper and placed inside the jar.
Personally, I don't have a problem with this being in the book, as it is true to what the ancient culture believed, but it's something I feel I should mention in case anyone might be offended by it.
This book wasn't my favorite of the series (it's just really, really hard to beat Cleopatra and Jahanara) but it was definitely a read I enjoyed, and it will be staying in my library for a long, long time.