Empress of all Seasons, Emiko Jean

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I want to be brave. I want to be worthy of love. I want to live in the life

Each generation, a competition is held to find the next empress of Honoku. The rules are simple. 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. 

* * *
3 / 5

I think Empress of All Seasons is just unfortunate in that I read it shortly after having read Girls of Paper and Fire which tackles a similar plotline – a girl aiming (or not) to become empress with some peculiar sort of non-human species featured – but was just much more engaging and impressive. Empress is a solid book in its own right, but wasn’t particularly surprising. 

Sometimes words are so much more difficult to form than fists

Mari is a yokai, a kind of monster despised by society. The Emperor is cruel, power hungry, and he enslaves the yokai. When he hosts a competition to find a wife for his son and heir, Mari is urged by her mother to enter the tournament, win, and pull off the greatest heist her village has ever seen. Taro, son of the emperor, is a brilliant inventor, Too brilliant. His father uses his inventions to enslave and control the yokai populations and is a terrible and cruel parent.

There’s also Akira, a scarred but beautiful boy who follows Mari around. He isn’t particularly memorable. But the main point of excitement in this book is the competition: there are hundreds of competitors, beautiful and strong women, who must face four rooms. One for each season, but all designed to push the competitors to their limits and to produce just one winner. But not all of them are as they seem. Amongst the women are members of the yokai resistance, including Weapons Master Hanako.

Beloved by nature. Revered by her husband. An Empress of All Seasons.

I loved the competition. I also liked Mari a lot – her people are valued for being beautiful and Mari is not. So she picks up a sword and learns to find a different kind of strength. I liked the aspects of Japanese mythology woven throughout the novel. I wasn’t a fan of the love triangle or the seemingly instant infatuation, and my enjoyment suffered from having read a very similar book recently that I thought was more original, adding more twists to the narrative.

Empress of all Seasons is an enjoyable, action-packed read. It didn’t surprise me, but it did entertain me.

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of Empress of all Seasons

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