Title: Empress of All Seasons
Author: Emiko Jean
Genre: YA fantasy
Pub. Date: Nov. 6, 2018
Synopsis: 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.
Wow, it’s nice to be back. Before I dive into this only *slightly* scathing review, I’d like to explain what happened to me over the last 3 (4?) months and why I pretty much dropped off the face of the planet when it comes to blogging.
The main reason: my WordPress account was hacked and essentially wiped. That’s why if you look at the home page of my blog, there’s only one post there (from February 2017). Almost two years’ worth of posts – completely gone forever. It’s more than an understatement to say that I’m crushed to see all of my progress over the last two years just vanish. Which is why I’d love all your guys’ help in spreading the word about my blog (assuming you enjoy my content even a little bit) since along with two years’ worth of posts, two years’ worth of stats also got deleted. It would mean the world to me to have help in rebuilding the space that’s become so important to me in my daily life. <3
On top of that major technical issue, college also happened to me. And I’m sure you can imagine what that means in terms of homework and time management – aka, I have no time for anything except writing, studying, and occasionally inhaling Chick-fil-A nuggets.
Anyways, now that I’ve got that out of the way, on to the review!
Judging from the Goodreads page, I’d say I’m in the vast minority of people to dislike this book. So of course, a disclaimer: this book really just wasn’t for me and my tastes, but it might still be for you! I think Empress is a classic case of disliking certain tropes, and therefore not enjoying the book as a whole.
Empress of All Seasons surrounds Mari, a quiet but tenacious yokai – or demon girl – that is forced to leave her secluded village and compete against human girls to marry the prince – all so she can steal his fortune.
If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll probably know that I’m a huge fan of the competition trope in YA books. Pitting kids against each other in what will likely turn out to be a series of deadly battles and challenges? Call me a sadist and sign me up. But for one of the first times ever, the competition in this book just fell…flat.
While I definitely enjoyed the fast-paced plot and straight-to-the-point writing (it was the only thing that kept me reading, in the end), it made each action scene seem incredibly short and easily won. I never once felt like Mari was in any real danger, and as a result, I didn’t care what happened to her or her friends. I read each scene very passively, waiting until she inevitably came out victorious (which *spoilers* she pretty much did every time). The fight scenes and technical skills of the characters came off very lackluster.
With my most-anticipated element of the book dismantled, that left the romance. And boy oh boy, did the romance make everything so. much. worse.
To be fair to this book, I really hate insta-love. Some readers really enjoy it; I utterly despise it. If there’s one thing that can kill an entire story for me, it’s insta-love. And I have to say, in all my years of reading YA, I think this may be the worst case of insta-love I’ve ever forcibly made myself read.
Taro, the love interest, was a very “meh” character overall. In the beginning, he was boring, with little personality depth and a deep-rooted loneliness complex. But I had high hopes for when he eventually met Mari. Without getting into further spoilers, I’ll just simplify my thoughts on Taro into one sentence: the more the book went on, the more and more I wanted Taro to die.
Oops did I say that out loud??
His relationship with Mari was completely implausible to me, but maybe other readers will disagree. I will give this book one major concession though, and that’s how the author managed to take the plot in a direction I never anticipated. I truly wasn’t sure whether Mari and Taro would end up together, which is something I can usually pick up on right from the beginning of a book. The author definitely uses the insta-love trope to explore Mari’s inner values of herself and what it means to be beautiful, which I thought was really unique and an excellent choice if you just have to use insta-love. If not for one decision Mari makes in one of the final scenes, I would have firmly given this book 3 stars and looked forward to more novels written by this author.
But alas, my hopes and dreams were foiled one last time. It’s hard to explain my feelings without describing spoilers, but I felt like Mari’s actions (which I didn’t like) conflicted greatly with the overall message at the end of the book (which I did like). So, I suppose I have to appreciate the good with a little bit of the bad.
The side-characters held a lot of potential for me, and in some ways they were my favorite element of the book. But I still felt like more development was needed on their part (and it didn’t help that my favorite character in the book got the rough end of the stick in terms of treatment from Mari).
However, despite my misgivings, there is one thing about this book that stood out as entirely perfect and unique – the Japanese folklore and mythology. I truly loved how the author referenced so many aspects of Japanese culture, and also tied in short stories about the Japanese gods that related to Mari’s own story line. Of course, I can’t speak for the representation, but it’s own-voices, which usually speaks for itself. If you’re looking for a (mostly) fun fantasy centering on a richly developed world based in Japanese culture – which we hardly ever see in YA literature – this book is definitely worth the read.
Thanks to HMH Teen for providing me with a digital advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.