Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms, and you’ll 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, if it weren’t for her dangerous secret. Mari is a yōkai, and 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.
And their choices will decide the fate of Honoku.
🌸 Accessible to even middle schoolers–anyone from 11 to adult could read it! But I suggest 12-15 year olds would love this as a segue into older YA, even though anyone could enjoy it. (I certainly did!)
#AsianYA is absolutely slaying November and 2018 in general. Because Empress of All Seasons completely blew me away with its lush world and relatable characters and amazing plot.
I thought the world was wonderful–it was lush and well-developed and rich with culture, which I definitely enjoyed. Plus, there were all sorts of magical beings–Mari being one of them–and it really spiced up the plot!
The enslavement of magical beings was handled really well, and it wasn’t too dark or gory that made this a heavy read, but enough that it commented on oppression etc. without making it that kind of story (which are good if you want to read about it, but it’s ultimately not Empress of All Seasons‘ focus).
I do kind of wish we got to see more of the seasons and the trials Mari went through, because they were really atmospheric and I loved the idea of spring, fall, summer, and winter rooms!
But overall, I was really absorbed into the world and the magic and loved reading this part!
Mari herself was such an awesome character and definitely my favorite in this book. I love how she struggled with hiding the yokai part of her, but eventually embraced it, which was wonderful. And she was just so fierce yet struggled with her loyalties.
And Akira, as much as I doubted him at first, ended up being another one of my favorite characters! I wasn’t sure how he’d play a part in the story initially, but by the end I think Jean really wove him into the story well and he played a really important part–one I didn’t expect, but still loved!
Taro–Taro was the one I struggled a little with. I mean, first of all, I’m just not really a big fan of taro. It’s okay, but not my favorite root vegetable. And besides the name, he just felt a little one dimensional to me. Like, he very much relied on that prince-who-doesn’t-like-his-job, and I really wanted more to him.
But there is only so much page time, and I feel like he didn’t take away from the story, but he didn’t add to it either. Which also meant I wasn’t completely into shipping Taro and Mari, but I wasn’t opposed either.
The characters and setting were definitely my favorite part, but the Hunger Games-esque plot was definitely very cool, as Mari did have to go through these physical trials that were fun to read about.
I have to add though, the ending felt different than traditional YA, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it! This book had a bunch of sequel potential, but the way the ending was condensed is what could have been a sequel just became an epilogue.
I’m not going to spoil what goes on, but enough things happened in that time that it could have been its own book and I wanted it to be its own book because I loved this so much. But in the end, this is a standalone and very much about Mari and Taro, instead of Mariko’s whole journey (in which it, in my eyes, would have had a sequel).
Overall, this ended up being a light fantasy that was a super fun read. It might not be as in-depth as you might be hoping, but it was really enjoyable and something that transported me to another world.
Anyone who loved Shadow of the Fox (with yokai and other beings) or Flame in the Mist (with it’s gripping plot) should definitely pick Empress of All Seasons up, as well as anyone who wants an engrossing and magical fantasy.
Thank you so much to HMH Teen for sending me an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!