This is the kind of story with a world that will totally swallow you whole.
In the best possible way! I love it when books promise epic and deliciously complex settings and then deliver. Like, tHANK YOU, I have been waiting to be totally captivated by a story world! This is also based on Japanese mythology and totally immerses you in the world with Japanese legends, weapons, food (um yeah thanks for that I’m hungry) and settings.
Like I really felt I could SEE it all. Which I’m actually super impressed with myself for (self five) because I have the imaginative abilities of a refried gnat. But aaaanyway.
- Mari being epic with her naginata sword and sighing about men in the first chapter.
- humans vs yōkai monstery things
- a contest to win the prince’s hand and also the empire if you survive the trials in 4 magical season-themed rooms of DEATH
- very soft™ but lonely prince who likes mechanical things
- halfblood yōkai who is all scars and would do anything for Mari
- epic woman everywhere, like did you see one?? there is another. two more over there. LOOK AT THEM FLOURISH.
- exquisitely detailed illustrious palace
- the humans enslaving the yōkai and how this is going to go baaaaad
- fighting! plots! rebellion! betrayals!
It has three narrators: Mari, Taro and Akira.
I really definitely liked Mari’s above the boys’, mostly because she was so complex and interesting! She’s an Animal Wife, a type of yōkai who basically woos men into marriage and then runs off with their fortune, which tbh is the best idea I’ve heard of all day. But she’s actually a FIGHTER. And because her family thinks she’s not pretty enough (she’s very smol, muscly and round, instead of super pretty/slim) she gets to enter the contest to win the princes’ hand because it won’t rely on looks. Just her stabbing things. Excellent.
I just found her so excellent. She sighs at men. She’s tired of people telling her she’s not pretty. She’s badass but enjoys being feminine. Her #1 love is her freaky family. I mean !!! this girl !!!
Then we have…
- TARO, the prince: Look. I enjoyed that he was this big badass looking guy but in reality he was soft and liked making mechanical birds. BUT. He was still super entitled and I didn’t like him. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Couldn’t ship it either. I mean they knew each other for like a week and he’s like “SHE COMPLETES ME” because she hit him in the face.
- AKIRA, halfblood yōkai: I liked him because he was all scarred and noble. Buuut like he couldn’t take a no. Mari said “ya no” to a relationship but he STILL followed her around, determined to protect her and wait for her love and I just…hmm.
- The males in this book. Why tho.
- ASAMI, contestant: Ok she and Mari team up and tHEY ARE EPIC TOGETHER. Can’t say much for spoilers!! But loved Asami!!
- HANAKO, weapons master: She basically heads up the yōkai resistance bless her and her idea she can just snark everyone into obeying her. She’s pretty creepy and therefore awesome. She has 0% time for Akira’s loyal puppy-dog act and just puts him to work and wE STAN A WOMAN WHO WANTS TO FREE THE WORLD.
- The emperor: Honestly? I’ve met Vegemite that was more logical than he was. As much as I love the setting/premise, why was his idea of finding a wife for his son like “Hey who can survive finding a scroll in the middle of a summer room that’ll roast your face off!! You are empress material!!!” I mean. Mate. You’ve got serious hate issues for the yōkai also. But aside from that: who thought this plan thru.
I do admit I found it slow paced.
It’s a fantasy that takes time to build the world, which I appreciate! But it took 100pgs to get started and then in 100pgs the whole bulk of the plot was over and I just???? We took so long to get here and then we rush through it?!
I loved the magic of having four rooms in the palace that contained whole worlds in them where the seasons and elements were super vicious. LIKE HOW COOL. And I loved the twist of girls winning the boy’s hand in marriage for once! But I didn’t quite understand the POINT of it all. Except…dramatics?! But I mean, I appreciate dramatics. So.
And, just really quickly, things I don’t like reading about do include: love triangles, instalove, and Burying Your Gays™ and they all rear their little heads here. (The BYG was very very small. More like an off-handed comment, so doubly unnecessary. Like why do this?! But it wasn’t the ONLY death so that at least helps.)
But WOW did it leave it open for a sequel!!
I’m really excited to see what will happen next and it’s definitely a world I want to go back to! Goodreads doesn’t say there’s more yet but like fingers crossed!?? All the little segments flashing back to how the gods made the world were super awesome too. And MARI, MY QUEEN. She needs to get better male companions, like…replace all of them ok. But otherwise I loved the monsters vs humans storyline. That will never get old.
This is definitely the kind of diverse epic fantasy we need more of!
It wasn’t quite perfect for me, but subjectivity always arises there. I just prefer more balanced pacing and it was hard getting through two other POVs when I was only interested in Mari’s!
THANKS TO HMH TEEN FOR THE ARC. Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean is published 6th of November 2018.
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