Review: Kazunomiya, Prisoner of Heaven

Kazunomiya: Prisoner of Heaven, Japan 1858 (Royal Diaries)Kazunomiya, Prisoner of Heaven
by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kazunomiya, Prisoner of Heaven / 0-439-16485-0

In a sense, most of the princesses in the Princess Diary series are prisoners in one form or other, as they are maneuvered in and out of political marriages and, in some cases (such as young Elizabeth of the Tudors) as they are maneuvered in and out of actual prisons. Kazunomiya herself dwells in a prison, albeit a lovely gilded one.

The year is 1858, and Japan is in a turmoil as investors from America have arrived on their shores and have threatened and bribed the shogun of Edo into a treaty to open Japan's shores to these men. The Emperor is furious at this breach of tradition, but he has no real power over the shoguns and is largely a figurehead in politics, a ceremonial god that does not involve himself in the messy business of treaties. In order to move away from a position of ceremonial weakness to a position of political strength, the Emperor breaks Kazunomiya's long-standing engagement with her true love - a prince of royal blood - to engage her to the next shogun. Kazunomiya is horrified at this turn of events and dreads becoming a political puppet for her brother to use.

With the help of her mother and aunt, Kazunomiya attempts to assert a little of her independence by circumventing the Empresses Mother's attempts to wrest control of Kazunomiya away from her birth mother. Kazunomiya also begins to meet secretly with her true love, promising that they will be together in the next life if not this one. Bravely, she strikes up a friendship with her intended, the young shogun, and they agree to be friends forever, even if they are forced to marry one another. In this way, does Kazunomiya try to survive within her prison, with kindness, bravely, and a samurai spirit.

Although this book is very short (not quite reaching 150 pages), and starts off fairly slow with descriptions of the Japanese court and the ceremonial poems that they send to one another throughout the day, the novel picks up the pace rapidly and grips the reader with concern for Kazunomiya's plight and whether she will be found out during her supervised, yet clandestine meetings with her soul mate. I enjoyed this novel, and recommend it to both children and adults alike, as an enjoyable coming-of-age tale, set against the fascinating backdrop of Kazunomiya's unique culture.

~ Ana Mardoll

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