Review of Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Read: 21st September 2018 – 12th October 2018

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Spoilers in review: Mild

Mari is a yokai. She has been training her entire life to survive and win the once-per-generation competition, with the prize being marriage to the prince and one day becoming the empress. However, yokai aren’t allowed to compete, and if the truth is revealed then Mari is sure to be executed.

I really enjoyed reading this book!

It was so refreshing to read a fantasy novel that uses Japanese mythology as its basis, this book was a real treat in that regard.

This novel has a lot of characters. However, everybody was unique and distinct enough from each other that I didn’t struggle with remembering who anybody was. Naturally, my favourite characters are probably the side characters we don’t end up learning massive amounts about, like Asami, Sei, Nori, and Hanako. This isn’t to say that the main characters aren’t interesting, because they are, but the side characters are also compelling and feel real.

The use of multiple perspectives was great! Mari and Akira are separated for a large chunk of the novel, so it was necessary to switch between them so that the reader knew what was going on. The third main point of view was that of the prince, Taro. I enjoyed his chapters a little less than the others. His definitely weren’t as necessary for the plot to make sense as the others were, but I do understand that it was a good idea to try and show his thought process, and why he did the things that he did. Also, interspersed throughout the novel, are short chapters from the perspectives of different gods, which I found really interesting!

Something that I really appreciated about this novel was that there was never a love triangle, or anyone acting like they were entitled to the attention of another person. Right from the start, the reader is told that Akira is in love with Mari, but that Mari doesn’t feel the same. Akira, while understandably upset by this, accepts this and doesn’t try to convince her to change her mind. His actions are still mostly motivated by his love for her, he wants to keep her safe, but he doesn’t expect anything from her in return and he doesn’t hold anything over her. He hasn’t been ‘friendzoned’, because that implies that he views the situation as being Mari’s fault when it isn’t. His feelings for her are unrequited, and very quickly he learns to be okay with that. Honestly, this isn’t something that should be notable, it should just be basic decency, but unfortunately it is notable and so I’m going to point it out.

One thing I didn’t like about this book, and that means I don’t feel right giving this 5 stars, is how the relationship between Mari and her mother is written. Mari’s mother was cruel to her for her entire life. She constantly made Mari feel as if she wasn’t good enough, she constantly put Mari’s life in danger, she forced Mari to spend her life training for and participate in the deadly competition, and she forbade Mari’s friend from visiting her at home. There’s probably more besides this that I’m forgetting right now, as well. Yet Mari forgives her for all of this because it was out of love? And because she had to look strong to the other members of the village? Mari’s mother was the leader of their village, she could do whatever she wanted, including not torturing her child. I don’t think she deserves forgiveness for any of it.

On the whole, I think this was a solidly put together book, and I’m very very glad that something like it exists!

I received an e-arc through Netgalley in return for an honest review. Quotes may differ in the published version.

Review originally written in 2018

Goodreads | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Hive

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