Book Review: Empress of All Seasons

Author: Emiko Jean

Genre: Fantasy

Age Range: 13+

Published: By Gollancz on November 8th, 2018

Content Warning: Tough love parent, gory violence and death

Format I Read: Kindle e-book

Grade: Exceeds expectations

Note: I received a free digital ARC of the book via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean | Nandini @ Unputdownable Books (post graphic image)

Book Synopsis (section header)

In 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, and you can marry the prince. All are eligible to compete – all except yokai, 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 yokai 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-yokai 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.

My Expectations (section header)

I had heard some really good reviews by diverse book bloggers before requesting it on Net Galley, so I was geared up to love this book. The synopsis made it sound like a Hunger Games-style plot with a Japanese-inspired setting, which made me very excited to add this to my favourite diverse reads list.

My Review (section header)

Mari as the main character was my favourite. As a girl in a patriarchal society, she really took destiny into her own hands. What I most appreciated about her was that she was a survivor and a strong girl, not only physically, but in every sense of the word. The supporting female cast was really well done too. I loved how even in a competition that would pit girls against each other, there was a show of sisterhood. Feminist themes were woven into the story subtly and wonderfully. On the flip side, I didn’t care much for any of the male characters or their arcs.

The plot kept me hooked for the most part but I think it lost its way around the 75% mark. There was so much left to resolve that it felt very rushed at the end and things fell into place rather conveniently. This had more of a fairytale feel to it than a complex fantasy story, which made the story fall short of my expectations. If it had been expanded into a duology, with perhaps a cliffhanger at the end, I would be a much happier reader. However, I fell head over heels in love with the world-building. The power dynamics and the politics to the clothes and the unique magic system – everything was superbly crafted.

The writing left me with mixed feelings. While I absolutely loved a few lines in the story, which were extremely quotable, I found that the usage of some modern words jarred me out of the story. For a narrative that certainly has a fairytale-esque and old world feel to it, I thought that they were out of place and out of character as well.

My Recommendations (section header)

Fantasy standalones are rare and it’s even rarer that I like them because I very much prefer a series, but this turned out to be a wonderful read. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a diverse, feminist fairytale. I listened to some ambient Oriental music while reading this book and it was the perfect accompaniment! If you love Japanese food, use this book as an excuse to indulge in it.

Book and Author Links (section header)

Book: Publisher’s Website | Book Depository | Goodreads

Author: Website | Twitter | Goodreads


Let's discuss (blog graphic)

Have you read this book? If yes, what did you think? Have you added it to your TBR? What books would you recommend for fans of Hunger Games to pick up next? Let’s discuss in the comments section below!

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Hunger Games-esque plot meets Japanese folklore - Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean | Review by Nandini @ Unputdownable Books

30 thoughts on “Book Review: Empress of All Seasons

  1. I’m reading this right now and have mixed thoughts. I like the idea, and in many ways the book is well-done. I also noticed the modern language (there was one idiom in particular I thought was weird, but I’m blanking on it right now). Also, there just feels as if there is ZERO chemistry between Mari and the prince, which is a problem in a book focused so much on the romance. I like the idea that he’s kind of cold/reserved/brusque and not necessarily some stereotypical YA love interest who’s perfect, but I just don’t feel anything between him and Mari. They’re telling me they’re head over heels, and it’s hard to see. I also think I’m getting to the part of the plot where the pacing gets off.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, the last quarter completely veers into exposition territory and there’s a lot that happens in very few pages. If it wasn’t for that, I’d have definitely rated it 5 stars even though I couldn’t exactly connect with all the POVs and disliking the romantic aspect. Waiting for your review to compare notes. 😊

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      2. The epilogue could have been a whole book by itself! I’m actually torn on whether it should have been or whether it was kind of a clever idea to be like “and then there were some battles but whatever we know how it turns out so moving on….”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Since I really liked the world, I really would have appreciated it being drawn out. I’d also like to see Mari heal herself and become the strong person she’s portrayed as towards the end. I feel like the road to the ending we got had a lot of potential for conflict, so it could’ve been expanded. I also think Jean’s writing would’ve improved by a measure if she’d given us a second book, so it would be a win in all departments. Alas that it isn’t so! πŸ˜…

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    1. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who noticed the weird word choices! πŸ˜… I completely forgot to mention that lack of chemistry between Mari and Taro. It was very much insta-love and I have no idea why the prince even liked her when he’d have so many other choices, TBH. πŸ™„

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      1. I just finished! It might make it even weirder that at the end is Mari kind of like “It was a short, passionate love, but actually I need no man.” I am getting conflicted messages. I mean, fair that she hates him after the sudden rampage, but that also seemed like a sudden change in personality that the author didn’t lead up to… I think this needed to be two books.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, those were my thoughts exactly. The end did a lot of things I couldn’t quite get behind. I also thought that Akira mastering a weapon over two short days was unbelievable even for a magical world because we’ve been told Mari has been training with the naginata for many years. I feel like it was meant to be two books but it was later decided to make it just one and the ending was changed in a hurry. That makes me so very sad because otherwise there would be two fantastic books I’m sure I’d enjoy a lot more! ☹️

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      3. I kind of accepted the weapon thing because “prophetic monks,” but I also want to know more about these monks. Everyone seems to know of them but not know about them…

        I’m going to have to think on it more before I write my review. So much was working for it and then…so much was not at the end.

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  2. This seems like an interesting premise. I thought it was kind of cool and maybe progressive to compete to be empress. But why must you marry the prince? What if you can’t stand him? This system clearly has flaws. πŸ˜€

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  3. evelynreads1

    I really should check this one out! I’ve heard so many amazing things!
    And indeed there are really not many fantasy stand-alone’s, I wouldn’t mind there being more haha πŸ˜‚ then it wouldn’t take so much time to read :p

    (Www.evelynreads.com)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The books really look interesting and great review. I added it to my TBR! I also like female characters who are strong overall an not just in terms of fighting. And good side characters really makes for a good book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t agree more with you! I really appreciate good female characters with substance, especially in fantasy where it’s easy to make them just kick-ass women and call them strong. I definitely think women can have many different kinds of strengths. This book really does showcase that aspect! Hope you love it. β™₯️

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  5. Gayathri Lakshminarayanan

    Your new theme looks amazing. And glad you enjoyed this one. I almost never read fantasy and avoid book series, so this sounds like a good place to start.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Overall, I really enjoyed the book. 😊 It’s definitely a good book for beginners as experienced readers can surely tell when the pacing goes off the rails. I would still recommend it to someone looking for diverse fantasy reads! I hope you like it more than I did! β™₯️

      Liked by 1 person

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