Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean
Publication Date: November 6, 2018
Summary from NetGalley:
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.
ARC provided by Houghton Mifflin via NetGalley for an honest review.
I really enjoyed this story based on Japanese mythology. The yōkai are fascinating and there are so many different types, that is what made this story so interesting.
The story is told from three different perspectives, Mari, Taro and Akira. Mari and Akira are childhood friends, but Akira would love to be more. I very much enjoyed their friendship, they helped each other through their loneliness and the feelings that they did not belong. It was interesting to see their friendship through both of their eyes. Mari loved Akira and would protect him to the end, but she didn’t love him in the same way he loved her. To Mari, family and duty were everything, and she had to do what her mother wanted, even when she didn’t want that for herself. Her training also sounded pretty brutal at the hands of her mother, they had a very complex relationship, but deep down they loved each other.
Taro was an interesting character, he was very conflicted about being Emperor and about the competition. He was also conflicted about how the yōkai were treated, but felt powerless to do anything about it. He perhaps fell too instantly in love with Mari, but that actually fit his character. I really liked the two of them together.
There were some very strong secondary characters, notably Hanako and Ren. They are also yōkai and they help both Akira and Mari a great deal. I also liked Sei, Mari’s servant, even with what she ends up doing. Masa and Hiro are also good characters that come to help Mari and see the good in her.
The plot was amazing and was what really carried this book. The competition was not at all what I imagined from the summary, it was so much better. The politics of the Imperial court were also very complex for such a short book. The pacing was perfect and it was hard to put down at times. The ending was not at all what I expected or really wanted, but I still liked it even though it was a tad rushed.
This book was beautifully written. I will be keeping an eye out for more books by this author in the future. I also hope she revisits this world that she has created. I would love to learn more about the magic and the yōkai.