Hello Humans! I wasn’t kidding when I said there were a lot of ARC reviews coming this month, there’s another one today in fact! When I first read the description for Empress of All Seasons I knew for a fact that I was probably going to love it. This story contains a whole lot of things that I utterly adore, some of which I’ll go in to in my review below. Suffice to say, I went into this book with high hopes, but did it live up to them?
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.
One of the things I love? Plots that have a series of trials. I remember being so cross at Throne of Glass when they mentioned all these trials the characters were going to have to go through and then didn’t show them all? In this case, it’s fairly obvious what the tasks are based around (it’s the seasons) and it really works as a framework for the book. I don’t know what it is, but I just find it so satisfying to read about characters completing a set number of challenges, I guess it’s the completionist in me. But having that framework around which to build story does also help to anchor the reader, I appreciated it.
Let’s talk about the characters. This book is multiple POV, but there aren’t too many perspectives to contend with. I suppose the most important three are Mari (our brave young heroine), Taro (the prince), and Akira (Mari’s friend is probably the simplest way to describe him). I actually enjoyed all three perspectives, I thought they were balanced characters all of whom had interesting storylines. What I thought this book got incredibly right was the idea of motivation. All of the characters ended up in the plot in some way because of a clear motivation that, for the reader, was easy to understand. That motivation may have changed throughout the story, but from the beginning, it was obvious why they were there. In a genre that so often has plot for the sake of plot (oh no I tripped and fell into my superpowers/magic/love story), it was refreshing to have characters who, for the most part, knew what they were getting into from the start.
I thought that the way the romance was handled was well-done. It is a quick romance, I’ll grant, but as someone who is used to these things, I thought it was very sweet. I was also worried that we were going to have the dreaded love triangle, but again, that was dealt with quite decisively and the plot doesn’t get bogged down in it at all.
My one criticism with this story is that I felt it was a little too quick, in particular towards the end, it’s such lovely prose, interspersed with mythology/fable that the ending seemed very rushed in comparison to the start. When something is as engaging as this, I’m willing to read a bit more of it, and in this case, I think it would have benefited from having a bit more time spent on the last quarter of the story, particularly since this is a standalone (as far as I can tell).
Obviously, as a white lady reading this, I cannot speak to the representation of people of colour in this story. However, I did think it was interesting how, in the author’s notes, she talks about her own racial identity and how she wrote that into her characters. I almost wish I had read that first, but it is clear throughout that there is that connection with Japanese culture. I look forward to reading more books from Emiko Jean, whose work has captured my imagination.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own
What say you? Will you be reading Empress of All Seasons when it comes out on November 8th? Let me know in the comments below!