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empress of all seasons by emiko jean; a review

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title: Empress of All Seasons
author: Emiko Jean
genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
publisher: Gollancz (Orion Publishing)
release date:
 Nov 8th, 2018
source: NetGalley
Goodreads Summary:

In a deadly tournament to become empress, any may enter but only one will survive, and one competitor doesn’t just plan to win, she’s going to steal the Emperor’s fortune. . .

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.❞

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i received this advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

empress of all seasons is a japanese-inspired fantasy novel that takes a bit bite into not just its subject material, but important societal issues as well. mari, our main character, is a yokai – a japanese supernatural spirit, and more specifically, she is an animal wife – a a shapeshifting yokai spirit that takes the form of a beautiful woman in order to marry unsuspecting men and steal their fortunes. bein the odd one out in her animal wife village, mari has been raised with one purpose – to bear and defeat the seasons in the emperor’s competition, win the princes’ hand in marriage, and steal his fortune. however, complications arise for which mari’s training never prepared her for, and she must take back control while simultaneously hiding her yokai identity.

the premise of this book reeled me in immediately. the concept just sounded too good to pass by, so obviously i knew i had to read this book. i’d seen it vaguely on twitter before requesting it on netgalley, which is a shame, because it didn’t get the exposure that it should have. however, after reading empress, i’m of two minds.

i’ve always been a fan of bad news first, good news second, so let’s start out with the negatives. firstly, the writing seemed to be telling a lot more than actually showing, which i didn’t really like. it felt like i was being spoon-fed information, when i generally prefer to discover it as the plot unfolds. same goes to the characters – i’d rather they show me the type of person they are, rather than the author telling me about them.

that being said, i did love the lore of the world that emiko jean has created. the tales of the gods inbetween chapters were one of the things i was interested in the book. they just gave so much insight into the world of honoku and how things came to be, which is absolutely up my alley. what can i say, i’m always a sucker for myths of gods and creation.

something else that bothered me was the pacing. it was quite inconsistent, for which the plot itself suffered. the book stars out on a very strong note and really grabs your attention, but unfortunately it doesn’t keep it for long since the pacing is so off that it just drags and the momentum is simply lost. i struggled the most with reading the middle; nothing seemed to be happening, but a lot of things were happening at the same time.

nevertheless, the last 30% of empress are quite well-paced; the book picks up speed all over again and it’s a breeze from then on. i really liked how things started happening and how the plot found its feet on solid ground again. you really start to see the development, both in the storyline and in the characters; they’re no longer floating through zero gravity.

the ending, however, personally, felt very convoluted. it’s all very deux ex machina of jean to wrap up things like she did in the epilogue. it would have been more beneficial for the story to have been split into two books so the author had enough space to develop the story she’s told and give it a nice, natural ending, instead of a rushed epilogue.

in contrast to that i said above, i think the message that the final sentence carries is rather good, and quite powerful. i won’t give away anything, but it’s something that we, as a society, need to learn and accept. for me, that line makes up for the convoluted way things wrap up.

there were some tropes in this that i’m personally not a fan of, like the ‘average’ girl and the ‘brooding, anti-social’ love interest, as well as a tinge of insta-love (+the triangle), but i think that by the end, mari, taro, and akira all grow out of their little stereotypes and become multidimensional characters. i was most impressed by akira’s character development, as i didn’t like him in the beginning, but he managed to crawl up and steal my heart. mari does not fall far behind, though, she worked hard and suffered a lot to get the ending she deserves, and i’m proud of her journey of acceptance. i think it sends a very good message, not just to girls, but to everyone.

overall, empress has its up’s and down’s, but despite that, it’s still a pleasurable read. some things could have been done better, such as the pacing and writing style, but i did enjoy the world and the lore, as well as the growth the characters underwent. regardless, i would still recommend it if you enjoy fantasy worlds and mythology.

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