Let me just state the obvious here: The Ultimate Fangirl is not exactly known for featuring fantasy books. It’s a genre that is quite literally out of my comfort zone. Sure you see me review some big fantasy books out there, but they’re not exactly my cuppa. It’s a either a really huge hit or a gigantic miss. But let 2018 be the 360 degree turn. Ever since Shealea at That Bookshelf Bitch recommended this particular tome on her Books On The Rice fantasy feature, I immediately added this book on my TBR. Seeing it just made a sudden realization struck me. “Hey, maybe I just need to be closer to what I know to actually ease into this genre.”
Empress of All Seasons is the perfect place to start. It’s inspired by Japanese folk lore, and heck I know a kappa when I see one. Years of watching anime and actually researching about the legendary creatures of Japan has prepared me for this. With that in mind, I truly hope I can get out of my comfort zone this time and not exactly dislike it.
(Spoiler: Yeah, I think this theory of mine is true.)
Author: Emiko Jean
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date Published: 6th of November 2018
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
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.
It has been a while since an ending satisfied me like that. I live for these empowering endings. I genuinely thought that it’s going in one direction but it kept me on my toes the entire time. It took me a while to finish because I had to put it down and I remembered that I have to breathe. NOW THAT IS HOW YOU DO IT, FOLKS. And it’s a standalone! (Honestly I can’t believe it either.) I felt like I climbed a mountain (pun intended). Okay I’ll stop with the jokes. In all seriousness, Empress of All Seasons is a beautiful book. It was wonderfully written and there’s no denying that gushing over it and making everyone want to read it is now a goal I have in life.
“EMPRESS OF ALL SEASONS IS AMAZING AND YOU NEED IT IN YOUR LIFE. THAT’S IT. THANKS FOR COMING TO MY TED TALK.”
As a part of the tour, I received an e-ARC of this book. Huge thanks to HMH Teen for providing copies for the tour. This does not affect my review and all of the opinions and thoughts reflected here are my own.
While this is not the first review where I am simply baffled with what I want to say, I hope to do my best with the words in my arsenal. In the best way to put it, there were so many things that went down in Empress of All Seasons that I might not be able to fully review it and actually deliver what is in store for you, dear reader.
Being the blind reader that I am, which is something I do with the majority of the books I take a keen interest upon, I did not know what to expect asides from these major factors:
- It is a book set in Japan and it incorporated a lot about the folklore of the country.
- I guessed that it obviously involved seasons. (Gee Sherlock, that’s some amazing deducing.)
- There will be political aspects in the discussion seeing as it is a competition to be the Empress of Honoku.
Sure enough, all of these expectations have been fully met. Going into the book blindly was an even better decision because I have no idea how it will all unfold. So to avoid rambling like a mad man, let’s start with the technicalities.
For one, Empress of All Season was smashing because of Emiko Jean’s writing style and world-building. These two components complimented each other in a way because the writing style hooks you in and it engulfs you to enter the world at the same time. The descriptive narratives were enough to give you the full picture of what is happening, what our main characters are feeling, and the overall tone of the scenes described in the chapter. It is easy to just loose yourself in this world, but it does not shy away from its imperfections. At the same time, it is fast-paced and mindful of the time frame of the story. It holds its grip on you emotionally, especially in the beautifully tragic descriptions of various emotions felt by each of our leads and the people around them.
Which leads me to my next point: Mari, Taro, and Akira whose perspectives we see within this novel. There was a stark difference with the tones of their voices, but equally young, a lit bit naive and optimistic in general. Since the story eases you in, it was quite clear on what their motives were. A lot of their actions came from what was expected from them, and it’s quite complicated to actually explain each of their sides. Rest assured though, they are all intertwined. All of them had the tone of conflict in their voice, but it was quite evident how they each grew and developed as a character. All of them were rounded amidst a cast of characters with multiple motives. Mari having to hide her yokai form to compete and win the title of Empress, Taro being shut and cold like the machines he creates but suddenly taking a keen interest in Mari, and Akira trying to prove to himself that he is a mere half-mortal and half-yokai.
(I am really doing my best not to spoil anything why is this so hard.)
Now of course with two boys and a girl in the mix, there is a possibility of a love triangle. However, this triad begs to differ. I want to keep this review spoiler-free, but the triangle that played out in this novel is not your average love triangle. In fact, the subject of love shows itself in various forms. It also delivers something new (well at least for me), because it was something else and quite sensible when you think about it.
Lastly, there is no denying that Empress of All Seasons is such a lovely book because of it taking inspiration from Japanese mythology and culture. The plot plays out like an epic – a story that is one for the ages. With side glances to stories about their gods and goddesses, it pans out like a marvelous parallel. The many yokai mentioned in the story made the world bigger and richer in lore. It made me have a larger appreciation and respect to the culture the story is derived from. I would definitely want to read more about the various gods, goddesses, deities, and creatures that shaped Japan’s mythology.
There are so many takeaways that you can get that is very much reflected on the author’s culture. The book talks about loyalty to family and one’s clan, upholding the honor of one’s family, fighting for what is right with the people who have your back. There is also the incorporation of heavy issues such as slavery, which is seen with the yokai being forced to wear collars by the emperor. The role reversal of Mari – and not Taro – having to prove herself worthy of conquering all of the seasons is another note that makes this novel a must-read.
Honestly the only problem that I had was that the novel had a slow start and there’s no denying that it is a little bit hard to grasp what the world seems to be. But other than that and as I mentioned before, once you get hooked with the writing and the anticipation there’s no turning back. It will easily make your heart race and will leave you gasping.
Empress of All Seasons is a jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, and stunning novel that goes straight to the point. It’s the perfect fantasy story to sink your teeth into if you’re craving for a vast world that will make you fall in love with its rich lore. I would gladly recommend it to my fellow readers who wants to give fantasy a fair shot, especially if you’re extra scared in committing yourself to a series. This one’s for you my friend. There is a lot to grasp, but engross yourself in this fantastic standalone.
Honestly I know my review doesn’t give the book half the justice it deserves. But it is one of the best books that I have read for 2018, and I genuinely hope that you’ll have a grand reading time like I did.
When Emiko is not writing, she is reading. Most of her friends are imaginary. Before she became a writer she was an entomologist (fancy name for bug catcher), a candle maker, a florist, and most recently a teacher. She lives in Washington with her husband and children (unruly twins). She loves the rain.
Connect with Emiko!
Need more convincing to read Empress of All Seasons? Follow the rest of the tour here:
Rafael of The Royal Polar Bear Reads
Carmel of Bookablereads
Jonathan of Wander with Jon
Nikki of Take Me Away
Vivian of Vanilla Angel Pages
Jen of Jen D Bibliophile
Jenny of Levicorpvs Blog
Hanamae of The Wraith Reads
Cristina of Girl in the Pages
Shaine of Wanderer in Neverland
Akisha of akithroughbooks
Bianca of The Ultimate Fangirl (hey, you’re here!)
Princess of Princess and Pages
Leilanee of ofsparksandmagick
Salwa of Salwa’s Reading Solace
Dexter of Dexterous_Totalus
Avery of B for Bookslut
Kat from Novels and Waffles
Lily of Sprinkles of Dreams
Joel of Descendant of Poseidon Reads
Imogene of Amidst the Pages
Leslie of Bibliophilekid
Myrth of Cliste Bella
Justine of Bookish Wisps
Athena of The Night Faerie
Ramnele of Bookdragonism
Erika of The Nocturnal Fey
Now the real question remains:
Are you excited to have a blast reading this lovely novel?