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.
I really enjoyed Empress Of All Seasons. I can’t tell you how happy all these Asian fantasy/retellings are making me. I haven’t read one that I’ve disliked yet.
Empress Of All Seasons is told by Mari, Taro, and Akira.
Mari is an animal wife. Her people are usually beautiful and can transform fully into animals. Mari has been told her whole life that she’s not beautiful and she can only partially transform. The animal wives seduce men, get pregnant, and steal their money. They come back home to the mountains where the yokai are free and not collared. Their animals are only transferred to females, so if they have a male baby, they give him to the river. They keep the girls. Since Mari wasn’t traditionally beautiful, her mother had her train early on. She expected her to go compete to become the next empress. Yokai were forbidden to compete, so Mari would have to keep her animal well hidden.
Akira is Mari’s not so secret friend. He is the Son of Nightmares and lives outside of Mari’s village. Akira is in love with Mari, but she only sees him as her best friend. When Mari leaves to go compete, Akira follows behind. He finds the weapons master and learns to fight/kill. He wants to be strong for Mari, hoping that she’ll fall in love with him. He is also there to keep an eye on her. Hanoko, Snow Girl, is the weapons master. She lives with an Oni, Ren. While Akira trains with them, he not only finds information, but he finds friends. Hanoko is planning a rebellion of yokai that are going to kill the emperor and the prince. She has a yokai in the competition.
Taro is the emperor’s son. He isn’t really thrilled with everything that comes with power. He spends his time creating metal animals. Taro also created the collars that are put on the yokai that contain a lot of their power. Taro is often torn between taking over for his father, and what his heart tells him. He doesn’t hate the yokai as much as his father, but he is loyal and will follow most of what he’s told. Taro has a half brother, Satoshi, that wants nothing more than the power and love of his father.
I enjoyed the pacing and action in the book. To compete, the girls had to survive the seasons. Each room had a season with dangers everywhere. They had to solve a riddle and find the scrolls before the others. Many of the girls didn’t survive the rooms. There is a bit of a love triangle with Mari, Taro, and Akira. But Mari is a very strong female that really didn’t feel like she needed a man, even when she had feelings for Taro. I loved her attitude and growth at the end of the book.
I gave this one 4 1/2 stars (rounded up to 5). Thank you to HMH Teen and Netgalley for my copy for review.
Have you read this yet? What did you think? If you haven’t, is it on your TBR?