Empress Of All Seasons
by Emiko Jean
In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems.
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.
Review:THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
I have heard many good things about this novel. So I will admit, I was looking forward to it more than I probably otherwise would have.
It was a good read! It did not live up to the hype for me, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless, and I was invested in Mari’s journey and in her story. And the fact that hers was not the only story I was invested in – Taro and Akira are both fleshed out and compelling characters – was a mark of a really good storyteller, in my opinion. All three points of views had very distinctive voices, all were sympathetic characters to a certain extent, and if I found myself getting frustrated in their actions, well, it was only because I was invested in their story and was privy to other things they were not.
Even the side characters – the Snow Girl and Asami especially – were compelling characters, and I cared about them. Some parts of the Snow Girl’s dialogue and scenes felt a little childish to me, but it might just also be me?
I did not see myself getting invested in Mari and Taro’s romantic storyline, or a love triangle, but I found myself still charmed by them. I loved that both Mari and Taro were attracted to parts of each other they thought enhanced themselves. It made their feelings believable, because they represented what they wanted and desired in life, and thought they could not get. I loved that even though Mari had no romantic feelings for Akira, it did not make her affection for him less real or poignant. I loved that Akira did not expect Mari’s feelings to be reciprocated even though he hurt about it.
The competition part seemed less important than I thought it was going to be. I thought it would be longer and have a bigger part in the story, especially since it’s the main draw in the synopsis. But while it was well done and I could feel the stakes, it’s not the heart of the story, and I feel like an opportunity was missed there.
The pacing of the story was a little off for me – it started a bit slow, even as it drew you in – but then the end was super rushed. The epilogue felt like it left a lot of unanswered questions. I honestly do not understand how, in a world that hated and persecuted yokai, the people ended up being okay with an empress that was a yokai. It was a decent enough wrap up, in that the story was complete, but it was rushed and twisted and turned so many times before the end that I was left reeling.
Again, it was a good book, but I feel it missed a few opportunities it could have snatched up to be a great book. But I can see a lot of people enjoying it, and I’m glad it exists in this world. We need more stories like this.
(Also, sidetone: my obscure rarepair shipping heart latched on to Hiro/Mari in the beginning of the book even though he was a minor character, and I felt so validated when he was offended on her behalf for her people thinking she wasn’t beautiful. I actually really loved his character and Masa and Ren even though they were so minor characters. Those of you who have read the book, please validate me.)