EMPRESS OF ALL SEASONS
Written by Emiko Jean
Published by HMH Books, November 6, 2018
My star rating: 4 stars
Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince. All are eligible to compete—all except yōkai, supernatural monsters and spirits whom the human emperor is determined to enslave and destroy.
Mari has spent a lifetime training to become empress. Winning should be easy. And it would be, if she weren’t hiding a dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai with the ability to transform into a terrifying monster. If discovered, her life will be forfeit. As she struggles to keep her true identity hidden, Mari’s fate collides with that of Taro, the prince who has no desire to inherit the imperial throne, and Akira, a half-human, half-yōkai outcast.
Torn between duty and love, loyalty and betrayal, vengeance and forgiveness, the choices of Mari, Taro, and Akira will decide the fate of Honoku in this beautifully written, edge-of-your-seat YA fantasy. Find it on Goodreads
When I first read the synopsis for this book, my hands physically shook with the need to read it ASAP! It sounded like everything I love in a fantasy premise all rolled into one. When I got a few chapters in, I quickly realized that it was going to deliver! There’s folklore, different clans and social classes, a competition, riddles, politics, a rebellion – basically every single trigger word for me to love a fantasy! Not only that, but this is a STANDALONE FANTASY….. I mean, it was a rare unicorn to my reading tastes!
This book is split into three parts. In part one we meet our characters. Mari, a Yõkai who is part human and part beast, and can change between the two at will, is living in a mountain village with the other Aminal Wives. The village and way of life is finite and steeped in their own culture. Mari, however, is not beautiful, and can also not change her appearance 100%, so she is trained to defeat the seasons and become Empress. Akira is her friend in secret and is known as the Son of Nightmares. Half yõkai and half human, and also hopelessly in love with Mari, he takes his future in his own hands as he decides to follow Mari. Taro, the Cold Prince, is living a life where no decision is his own, and has to live the way his father, the Gods, and Goddesses choose. Unless he decides to make his own fate. This first part is beautifully written and gives you quite a complete background to the story. The emotional strings sewn in this first part were also possibly my favourite of the three parts. It is a little slow as you’re waiting for the competition to begin, but it does pick up – and when it did I couldn’t stop reading!
Part two is where they reach the Palace of Illusions and the competition begins. Hands down my favourite part of this book! I absolutely loved the world building and how strong the Japanese influence felt. The world building of the palace and surrounding city was great, but it was the seasonal rooms that interested me the most. I loved learning how the rooms were made, functioned, and were used. Each room had it’s own beauty and danger. And the competition was so intriguing! At the beginning of each room the competitors were presented with a riddle as to where the scroll was hidden. Find the scroll, and move onto the next room. The competition was fierce, but the natural dangers within the rooms was worse than anything. I do wish that this part was longer though. It felt a little rushed and too easy for the competitors to figure out. In reality the rooms took hours, but as a reader it felt like mere minutes. I just wanted MORE! I wanted them to struggle more, take longer to figure out the riddles, explore more of the rooms, etc. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t feel quite enough for me.
The characters were well written – some I loved more than others. Mari felt like the perfect balance. She was never fully accepted as a full human or full Yõkai, so she was constantly seeking approval from her mother and fellow Animal Wives. She was trained to be a strong survivor, yet had a soft and loving heart. She was confident yet unsure. Strong but weak. I really loved her character arc and how she dealt with her relationships with Akira, Taro, and her mother. Akira himself was still a bit of a mystery. He was present the whole way through yet I still feel like he was shrouded somehow – but in a good way! He felt like he was the one that was taking the steps to choose his own destiny and I loved him for it!
Taro….. I have a love/hate relationship with. I LOVED him in the beginning! He was so soft, smart, and full of love and compassion. But he was also strong willed and had desires that he was willing to make sacrifices for. But as the book went on, he was very quick to change direction. I understood his changes, yes, but at the same time his will seemed SO strong before that it made no sense to me why he would change so quickly and completely. Emotions and trauma can make a person do crazy things, but it was disheartening to see him lose all of his opinions at the snap of his fingers.
The ending though!! It was very bold and unique, and one that will stay with me for a long time! One of the final lines of this book is a quote that I will keep close to my heart for a while but I can’t mention it because it will spoil the whole thing! Like I said, it’s a bold ending that I feel like people will either love or hate. For me, the unexpectedness and unique direction made me love this book even more!
I wish that I could say more, but I don’t want to spoil a single thing for you! If you like magic, folklore, competitions, politics, rebellions, and riddles – I HIGHLY recommend this one! I can’t wait to see what else the author comes up with!
Thank you so much to Raincoast Books and HMH Books for allowing me to be a part of this blog tour! All of my thoughts and opinions within this review are my own and are uninfluenced.
AUTHOR Q & A!
Where was the inspiration drawn from to have a competition based on seasonal rooms? And was it intentional to emphasize that nature is just as powerful and dangerous as people can be?
Good questions! In Japanese culture the seasons and nature play a prominent role. That’s what inspired me to include seasonal elements such as the rooms.
Until next time, happy reading!