Yes, yes, I know this book came out back in November but the struggles of trying to even read at this point in my life are basically maybe an hour a day with just a bit more on the weekends. Anyway! No excuse, no apologizing! Let’s just dive right in!
Thank you to NetGalley and HMH Books for Young Readers for providing me with a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review!
Title: Empress of All Seasons
Author: Emiko Jean
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release date: November 6, 2018
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Length: 384 pages (hardback)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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.”
Man, oh man, did I want to love this more. Truthfully, this started out really well. I love the non-Western mythology and folklore, I loved how fierce, defiant, and yet loyal our main character, Mari, is. I even enjoyed the romance between her and Taro, though I did find them falling a bit too quickly for one another. This book simply fell flat for me, and I can’t pinpoint exactly why.
I really liked Mari and Taro’s budding relationship, how they pinned their respective hopes on one another. I won’t say what happened specifically because it’s really spoiler-y, but I definitely felt a bit gypped. I also thought the book ended too quickly, and just as I started to feel like the characters were really building relationships with one another… Again, that was swept right out from under my feet. The relationship between Mari and her mother is also strained, and she puts these very perfectionist and cliche expectations on her daughter, telling her that she’s not beautiful but plain, and the only thing she has going for her is to fulfill her duty as an Animal Wife and steal from the prince. In truth, it became a bit disheartening, and Mari herself struggled with her identity. The former caused me confusion toward the ending of the book, and I’m not quite sure where Mari’s loyalty lay, to be honest.
I enjoyed learning about the different yōkai and the magic the priests used. I loved the stories, too, about the gods and goddesses, and how those intertwine with the story. Mari’s struggle with who she is versus who her mother wants her to be is a story that has the ability to resonate with many readers.
The writing style was good, but I didn’t find it exceptional. While this book wasn’t necessarily one of my favorites, I did enjoy it, and I’ll keep an eye on this author in the future.