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.
“Do not let your fear decide your fate.”
This book was such a wonderful Asian fantasy! I feel like so many of the books I read featuring Asians are contemporaries, and I really don’t get to read that many Asian fantasies, so I was really excited for this one! It was definitely far from perfect, but I did really enjoy it so hooray!
I absolutely adored the incredible world this book was set it! It’s a Japanese inspired fantasy, where the world is filled with humans, who hold all the power with their spells, and yokai monsters, who would be so much more powerful if they weren’t forced to wear enchanted collars by the humans. There is a lot of mythology seamlessly woven into the story, both about the gods who created the world and the humans and yokai living in it that I loved reading about. There was also plenty of talk of politics, and the complicated dynamic between these two creatures and their rulers that I loved reading about!
The premise of the book kind of reminded me of a cross between The Selection and The Hunger Games, but in all the best ways! It’s a competition of girls competing to marry the prince and become the next empress, but instead of just wearing pretty dresses all day, they have to fight all the elements and risk death to conquer all the seasons. The royal palace had spring, summer, fall, and winter rooms, and I loved reading about those!
Unfortunately, one issue I had with this book was the pacing! As I said, the competition and the seasonal rooms were incredible, but I felt like they passed by in the mere blink of an eye! The beginning of the book, which establishes all the characters in their homes, felt really drawn out compared to the rest of the book, which was really rushed and I would have liked to see developed more. The ending especially felt really rushed, and although I really loved it, I feel like the author tried to tie up too much in too few pages.
Mari // I loved Mari! She’s a yokai who never fit in, never pretty enough to take the role of the other yokai in her village, so she has to win the competition and become Empress of All Seasons instead to make her family proud. While at first she seemed a bit naive and fixated only on herself, she grew so much by the end and really fought for a better world.
Taro //I gotta admit, I didn’t like Taro as much. In the beginning, I loved my smol bean, the prince who doesn’t want to be a prince, who never makes his father happy, and who just wants to build mechanic flying birds and insects. Unfortunately, I feel like after that he was never really developed, and became a really weak character who decided to change his entire life’s plan after one conversation with a girl.
Akira // Akira is half human and half yokai and I love him for it! The author, Emiko Jean, is half Japanese and half white, so she wrote this character who is really torn between two different identities, exhibiting some traits of both human and yokai but not really fully either, without a group of people he can really fit into. Since I’m half Asian myself, I loved reading about this character and even though I’m not half monster lmao I found myself really relating to Akira! He also grows and develops so much, from an innocent boy flitting around the forest to a warrior fighting against the corrupt system and I just really liked Akira.
My main problem with this book was the romance. It was totally instalove. Taro has one conversation with Mari, and falls head over heels in love with her, and Mari gets there after, like two conversations. I really didn’t feel anything between them. Romance was actually pretty minor in the book, and clearly didn’t play a big role in the story, fortunately. The book was really feminist, showing that the women didn’t need to listen to men and could rule and change things on their own! However, the romance was so annoying when it kept popping up and I really wish it wouldn’t lmao.
Overall I had a few issues with this book, but I did really enjoy it! To anyone looking for another lovely Asian fantasy, I would definitely recommend this book!