Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons

by Emiko Jean


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Winter 2018-2019 Kids’ Indie Next List

In a palace of illusions, nothing is what it seems.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544530942
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 323,756
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)
Lexile: HL630L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Emiko Jean is the author of the psychological suspense novel Well Never Be Apart. Her second novel, Empress of All Seasons, is inspired by her Japanese heritage. Emiko lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children. Aside from reading and writing, she loves hiking and travel. Follow her on Twitter: @emikojeanbooks.

Read an Excerpt

IN THE BEGINNING, dark water flooded the earth.
     Kita, the Goddess of Land and Rice, built a staircase out of lightning and stepped down from the sky.
     She dipped her nimble fingers into the black oceans and sculpted from the rocky depths the lands of Honoku. From her body, she made the terrain. Her eyelashes became forests, dense with trees. Her tears of joy became the oceans, rough with salt. Her breath became the desert, hot with sand. And with her fingernails, she created an impassable mountain range, one of extraordinary danger and height.
     Delighted by her cleverness, she bragged to her fellow gods and goddesses.
     Sugita, her brother, God of Children, Fortune, and Love, perpetually prone to jealousy, refused to be overshadowed. From the land, he gathered clay and molded figures.
     The first were yōkai.
     Sugita’s imagination ran wild, and he fashioned these spirits, monsters, and demons, these otherworldly creatures, with blue, white, and yellow skin. Some he fashioned with horns; some without. Some he locked forever in childhood. To others he gave two mouths or fifteen fingers, long necks, ten hundred eyes, or shriveled heads. The yōkai were as limitless as the magic within them.
     The second were human.
     These he made in his own image, relatively uniform in appearance, with ten fingers and ten toes, each with a single mouth, and with hair upon their heads. Soon enough, Sugita recognized the weakness in his design. He had given yōkai vast powers, whereas he had given the humans none. So he gifted the latter with a second language—curses that may be spoken or written to ward off the yōkai, strip them of their powers. In this way, a balance might be established.
     And to all—yōkai and human alike—he bestowed a mortal heart.
     Finally, he took the human that bore him the strongest resemblance and set him upon the most fertile land. He touched the human’s brow with his thumb and drew a smudge between his eyebrows. All would know that he was favored by the gods and goddesses. So it was.
     The human was called Emperor.
     Sovereign. Blessed.
     Ruler of the land.


BREATHING IN THE DARK, and not her own.
     Mari tilted her head. She couldn’t see in the pitch-black, but she closed her eyes. It helped her focus. She knew this space well, this room with no windows and an almost airtight door. Sometimes the musty smell invaded her dreams, morphed them into nightmares. The Killing Room, and Mari was executioner.
     She inhaled, holding the stale air in her lungs. There, in the right corner, two feet away, someone waited. Afraid.
     Mari stepped forward, the floorboards creaking under her weight.
     “P-p-please,” a high-pitched male voice wailed.
     “I’m not going to hurt you,” she said, letting a note of reassurance enter her voice. Not yet, anyway. She probed the wall. Her fingers brushed against a wooden ledge, then paper pulled tight over a bamboo frame. Matches rested next to the lamp. She struck one and lit the cotton wick, illuminating the room in a soft glow. The scent of rapeseed oil crept through the air. When her eyes refocused, she saw that the man was dressed in hakama pants and a surcoat. Samurai garb. The uniform of the military elite.
     “Gods and goddesses,” he said, mouth lifting into a sneer, “I thought you were one of them. Why, you’re no taller than a sapling! What happened, little girl, did you lose your mommy?”
     Mari regretted her paltry effort to comfort him. That’s what you get for being nice. Men. They always underestimated her.
     Opposite the man, a variety of weapons leaned in the corner: a sickle and chain, a bow and arrow, a nunchaku . . . Mari gestured toward them. “Choose.” She liked to give the men a fighting chance. I’m sporting that way.
     The samurai huffed. “You don’t know what you ask, little girl. I trained at the Palace of Illusions with the shōgun himself.”
     Mari clenched her teeth. This was growing tedious. “I said, choose your weapon.”
     The samurai strolled to the corner. He rifled through the weapons and selected a katana and a wakizashi.
     Predictable. The long and short swords were samurai weapons. Her opponent brandished them, sharp-edged steel blades glittering in the lamplight.
     Mari sauntered to the corner and quickly chose her own instrument. Always the same. The naginata. The reaping sword was a long bamboo pole culminating in a wicked curved blade. Thought to be a woman’s weapon, none of her opponents ever selected it. It was the only weapon Mari knew how to wield. “If you train on all weapons, you will master none,” her mother always said.
     Mari stamped the naginata on the ground. Dust billowed around the hem of her navy kimono. “I’m very sorry, but from this moment, you’re dead,” she said, unsheathing the blade.
     The samurai laughed, the sound robust and biting.
     Mari cut his chortle short. She dipped into a crouch, letting the pole end of the naginata swing out in an arc, clipping the back of the samurai’s knees.
     He collapsed with a loud thud. Mari winced. The big ones always fall the hardest.
     “That was a mistake,” he said, clambering to his feet. He crossed the swords in front of him, a dangerous glint in his eye.
     At least he’s taking me seriously now. “No,” Mari corrected. “That was intentional.”
     The samurai rushed her, and she followed suit. The blade end of her naginata clashed against his big sword. Sparks flew.
     The samurai jabbed with the smaller sword, and Mari dodged. A hairsbreadth from being impaled. That was too close. Her pulse quickened with fear and excitement. This samurai is well-trained. Before the samurai could pull back, Mari began twisting the naginata, catching both of his weapons in the windmill. Forced to let go, the samurai dropped his swords, which scattered to the ground, a few feet away. Well-trained, but not as well-trained as I.
     She couldn’t allow him time to take a breath, to reach for his weapons. End this. She snap-kicked, her right foot connecting with his abdomen. The samurai grunted and doubled over. He clutched his stomach as he tipped to the ground.
     She stood over him, breath ragged, victory sealed. Warmth radiated through her body. She felt the beast rise within her, felt her brown eyes dissolve into twin black abysses. Her hands flexed as muscles spasmed and bones popped. Her fingernails grew into black pointed talons. The skin on the back of her hands bloomed with leathery, charcoal-colored scales as tough and thick as a rhinoceros hide. She ignored the agony of transformation. She had trained herself to shut it out.
     The samurai stared, horror-struck.
     She knew she looked hideous—still part human, but with the eyes and hands of a monster. She brought her face close to the samurai’s, and when she spoke, her voice came out as a rasp. “You were right after all. I am one of them.”

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Empress of All Seasons 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you have been wanting to dive into a captivating fantasy world of Japanese folklore, look no further than EMPRESS OF ALL SEASONS by Emiko Jean. Two win the prince’s hand in marriage and become the next empress of Honoku, one girl must survive the magical dimensions of the palace’s seasonal rooms: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. All young girls of the new generation are welcome to compete. Yōkai, on the other hand—supernatural monsters and enemies of the emperor—are unwelcome and despised. Mari, a yōkai from an all-women tribe, enters this competition disguising herself as a human, determined to not only steal the prince’s heart—but rip it out of his chest, seize his riches, and bring them home to her tribe. All is going according to plan until Mari begins to question what will be more important if she were to be the victor: love or duty? Jean exquisitely sets the stage for the concept and world of EMPRESS OF ALL SEASONS: it is alluring and lush, full of homages to the richness of Japanese culture, heritage, and history. What’s more, the story is carried on the shoulders of the snarky and strong female protagonist, Mari. Though she is haunted by the insecurities of failing her tribe, she never relinquishes her desire to succeed for their sake. It is only by nature that this specific tribe of yōkai survives by stealing from humans. They would not exist otherwise—and it is up to Mari to continue their legacy. In this YA, we also explore the themes of loyalty and love, all of which present significant questions to an audience: - What is worth more: loyalty or love? - What constitutes loyalty that is just? - When facing a crossroad between loyalty and love, is there even a right decision at all? All are answered during Mari’s journey, which also encourages the reader to delve into their own personal beliefs on the aforementioned manners. Subsequently, we develop a bond with the book’s vivid cast of supporting characters and find that their hardships are just as significant and defining to their identity as Mari’s. For example, Prince Taro was raised to hate yōkai alongside his family, but he grapples with the morality that even though he could never bring himself to be superior to them, it is ultimately his duty as the future emperor keep his kingdom safe, no matter the cost—even if that means of sacrificing the lives of innocent creatures. However, no one will force him to make that choice in the end, and it illustrates how the novel’s commentary on equality and prejudice shows us the consequences of such choices and the ugliness of the human soul. If you love philosophy, you’ll definitely appreciate how this is explored throughout EMPRESS OF ALL SEASONS! The next time you’re at the bookstore or browsing online for your next read, look no further than EMPRESS OF ALL SEASONS. It’s set in a beautiful fantasy world, is full of vivid characters, and encourages you to look deeper into its themes and perhaps, even ask yourself what always matters most, just like Mari.
Eliza394 More than 1 year ago
Empress of All Seasons is truly a gem—I couldn’t wait to get home and keep reading! The novel follows protagonist Mari as she embarks on a journey to win the throne of Honoku and, in line with her Animal Wife ancestors, steal the prince’s riches. Along the way, she is confronted with the struggles of a typical teenage girl: love, friendship, and the fight for independence. The battles are intense, the pacing is quick, and more than once the plot dares to unravel with a well-executed flick of Mari’s naginata. This is a book that you’ll pick up to read for a few minutes only to find yourself still hanging onto every word an hour later. Jean expertly crafts a mystical world while creating struggles and characters that are relatable, and the story’s POV shifting kept me engaged. I was conflicted on Taro throughout and thought Jean did an excellent job wrapping his character up as the plot progressed. I felt for Akira and his need for love—and how refreshing that this quality fell to a male character rather than a woman! I certainly saw parts of myself and my own adolescent insecurity mirrored in Mari. Her realization regarding love at the end of the novel is a welcome twist that sets a wonderful example for young readers. Jean’s biting social commentary separates this book from the rest. From the horrific treatment of yokai to Mari’s own doubts about her ability as a warrior, she sends a crucial message about the importance of celebrating and supporting difference rather than shunning it. Will definitely be recommending this book to young and old readers alike!
18876111 More than 1 year ago
*Content warning: slavery, violence, abuse, death, rape, and body shaming. Where do I begin with this book? I don't even know. This book was beautiful, heartbreaking, and the writing was lyrical. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the characters, my favorite being Mari. I felt that Mari was such a strong, powerful female character. While I did enjoy the story and most of the characters, I did not like how the Imperial City put collars on the Yōkai to enslave them and keep them captive, or how they were confined to one district, just because they're different. I also enjoyed how the story ended, I felt that the ending tied things together very well.
Take_Me_AwayPH More than 1 year ago
When I heard about this book I was super excited! Asian inspired folklore AND it's #OwnVoices? I mean let's be serious. YES. PLEASE. And in the end, it was everything I wanted it to be. Mari, Taro, and Akira all lead different lives. Mari has come to compete in the competition that will determine who will become the next Empress. Taro is next in line for the throne, and Akira still feels he must protect Mari at all costs. But of course Mari is holding a secret that no one can find out, but how can she survive the Palace of Illusions and the Rooms of Seasons without showing the world what she is? The very first thing that stood out to me about this was the writing style and language. It's been a long time since I've read a book where I added so many post-its! I made notes for all types of things in her writing, from swoons to Mari's fierceness, to just language that I found beautiful. This is my first book from Jean, so I didn't know what to expect from her writing and it was a pleasant surprise. Her writing in Empress is certainly going to be something I remember for some time to come. Then there was the characters. Normally in a book with multiple characters I'm not fond of a couple of them and it does damage to the story for me. But this time, for the most part I liked all of them. One of them I could have done without until the end lol But the other two had me on the edge of my seat. As for the plot, I could have done with a little more action in the first 100 pages or so, but after that I was hooked. Once Mari made it to the Palace I was super into it. I seem to be like that alot when it comes to games or books like this. (It took me forever to read Warcross and I had to read The Hunger Games twice...) It seemed to drag at first, but once it going, it was really hard to put down. I knew this book would be something I enjoyed when a co-worker of mine asked could she borrow it. She's part Japanese and doesn't like YA. But she saw one of the words in the book and it just so happened to be her maiden name. She (is almost 55) and said she said that was the first time she ever saw her name in print. This is why we need diverse books and why Own Voices is so important. She's in her 50's, imagine what seeing this type of rep can do for a teen. This book was a surprise to me and I can only hope that others enjoy it as much as I do. This was a little out of my comfort zone, but I'm really glad I gave it a shot before I gave up on it.
Kat_Deaton More than 1 year ago
THE YA FANTASY I'VE BEEN WAITING FOR!!! It has been so long since I have found a YA book that doesn’t play off the same old tropes, doesn’t compromise on writing quality—and this book BLEW ME AWAY!! The world building is so rich and intricate, I just loved seeing the Asian culture and how the mythology was teased out into this delicious plot. I would’ve liked more meat to the ending, but overall I still loved it—it has all the romance and action/adventure of YA that I know and love, but with a really refreshing new world and AMAZING characters (Mari is an absolute legend). This book is a must read!!!
taramichelle More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved the concept for Empress of All Seasons! The mythology was so fascinating, I want more stories featuring yōkai.  The characters were also great. I loved how many different types of strong females were featured. Additionally, the different viewpoints really added depth to the story. The world-building was both intricate and easily understandable. In general, I really enjoyed the plot and found this to be a quick read. But the ending was quite sudden, which was a bit jarring. I think the short epilogue would have made a fantastic sequel if it was expanded. I’d recommend this one to fans of YA fantasy who are looking for a fun and engaging read set in a fantastic world. *Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Katherine Harris More than 1 year ago
This novel is magnificent. Jean weaves fragments of Japanese culture into an empowering story of a young woman named Mari and her quest to overcome the expectations placed on her and pursue the life she wants for herself instead. I couldn't put this book down, couldn't turn my eyes away from Mari's struggle, couldn't keep myself from falling in love with Akira, from sympathizing with Taro, from aching for all the sorrows each character was forced to face as the story progressed. It was fascinating to read a story so steeped in a culture that I know so little about; it's the mark of good writing (in my opinion) that I felt as strongly as I did about the characters so early into the book. I think it will turn some heads once it is published.
ruthsic More than 1 year ago
Empress of All Seasons has an amazing plot, and beautiful world-building going for it. The author has used Japanese folklore and identifiable yokai legends and inserted them in a unique fantasy world with its own mythology. I particularly loved the creation myths occasionally dropped into the plot, and how they didn’t tie into the plot but also gave that nice mystical touch to the story. The story focuses on Mari’s journey from being a yokai to the Empress of Honoku, but also has POV from the current Prince Taro, and her childhood friend Akira, a half-yokai. She is from the Animal Wife clan, a clan of supernatural grifter yokai made up entirely of beautiful women who marry human men and steal their fortune. Mari has been brought up to one day participate in the Hunger Games-ish trials and become the Empress. Besides Mari’s main story, the plot has a secondary thread of the treatment of yokai in Honoku as slaves. The current Emperor has hated them since one midwifed his Empress during childbirth (which resulted in her death) and has relegated them to be powerless and collared. Mari, having lived far away from all this, isn’t invested in the politics of the situation, but Akira, who follows her into the city (in hiding), falls in with the rebel force of yokai. Taro, meanwhile, wants to escape his current life but stays when he meets Mari. The consequences of a yokai yearning to be Empress are dire, indeed, considering the hate-filled palace, and the compliance of the people, which is what cheapens the way this book ended. The story of the book is expansive, and yet it wraps it all up in a solo plot. The competition itself takes place within a week, and I mention this because there is a LOT that happens during that time, inside the four Season rooms, and outside, including character development and relationship changes, much of which can’t be justified during that short time! Taro has an insta-love for Mari, and she, too, falls for him in a matter of days. Mari makes and loses her friend, and is betrayed by another confidante. The emotional weight of the ending is lost when you consider that they barely knew each other and hadn’t had much time to even learn of the other. Also, the plot jumps forward often – I can’t even call this fast-paced because it completely skips over her ACTUALLY becoming Empress and changing the landscape of Honoku, instead just giving us an epilogue in a paragraph. The ending definitely ruins the enjoyment of the book, even if the rest of it went well. In short, the too-fast pace and the rushed ending dampen the enjoyment of a beautifully constructed book that had the potential of at least a duology.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Action filled mythological adventure! Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, NetGalley and Edelweiss for the opportunity to read and review Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. Taro is the son of the emperor but, unlike his father, Taro has a kind heart. This kindness angers the emperor. Mari is an Animal Wife yokai (a human with supernatural powers that can change into a beast) with the strength and intelligence to best her opponents. She’s not beautiful, so her mother is disappointed in her and makes her train as a warrior instead. Mari’s mother wants Mari to conquer the Empire, become Empress and steal the prince’s fortune. Akira, known as the Son of Nightmares because of his scarred face, loves Mari, even though to her they will only ever be friends. He follows behind the procession taking Mari to the Empire for the Seasons Rooms competition, so he can keep an eye on her without anyone knowing. Akira has a wonderful sense of humor, even though he’s had a painful and lonely life. Mari feels overwhelmed by the competition and because of all of the young women involved but she uses her wits and her values to overcome her challenges. I enjoyed the intermittent stories of gods and goddesses that explain the creation of Mari's world. Action packed, filled with mythology and adventure, Empress of All Seasons is an unputdownable fantasy read worthy of 5 stars!
SkyeWright More than 1 year ago
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher I was able to read this book in exchange for an honest review. **** I had a rough go with this one. I loved the concept and the world the story is set in, heavily influenced by Japanese culture, but didn’t connect well with the characters, except maybe Akira. I really liked him. Mari, a yokai, specifically an Animal Wife, is not the prettiest of her village. The expectations for her succeeding at what the women of her village do (marry, steal the heart of their husband and their fortunes and have child, preferably girls) are low and so she is trained to have the best advantage when it comes to the competition to become empress. Every generation women compete in magical rooms containing the seasons, battling to survive and become the new empress. What she doesn’t know is what life is like outside her village, beyond her mountains and closer to humans. Yokai are enslaved and treated less than and a rebellion is brewing. Mari must hide her true self and not get caught because if the rooms don’t kill her, be outed as a yokai, specifically a yokai free and without collar, will get her killed. Taro is the emperor’s son and the man whom the women are competing to win. Taro despises the competition and everything it stands for, he’d rather create and enjoy his own company. The only thing he knows for sure is to be careful about what he creates and who he shares it with, it was his hands that created the collar that yokai are forced to wear, stealing their strength and weakening them and he hates knowing he made that possible. Known as the cold prince for his aloof attitude Taro wants to find happiness and doesn’t know how he can find it with women competing for the power empress will give them, until he accidentally meets Mari and things look up for him. Akira, the Son of Nightmares, is Mari’s good friend and keeper of her secrets. Born of yokai and human Akira struggles with his identity but feels content and happy with Mari and wants to stay by her side. When she leaves for the palace to compete Akira follows behind and finds himself along the way. I really started liking his character the most after he joined up with the yokai revolution, there is a nice shift and growth in him that made me like him even more than I had at the start. The book chapters danced between these three characters and while I loved Akira, somewhat felt for and liked Mari, I had a hard time liking Taro. For someone who disliked his father and the beliefs he held and how he acted, he sure was a lot like him. Especially in the end. This is a good story, while it starts quite slow in the beginning it moves fairly fast once you hit the first season room, fall I think it was. I liked the world it’s built around and in. As someone who has always been fascinated by Japanese culture I found elements I was very familiar with and I enjoyed seeing something different from the usual. The ending was also quite something, a flip from what I usually see and I loved it, took me by surprise.
marongm8 More than 1 year ago
After reading Empress of All Seasons, we can say that this book is a combination of Brave and Hunger Games combined in a modern new world. All of our readers one way or another can relate to Mari and the passion she had for becoming an empress and being the missing piece of the puzzle for her kingdom. With Mari's curse/gift this book also reminded us of she hulk but we like how Mari kept giving effort in hiding her secret in order to keep training and competing. Then Mari meets Tokai and realizes he is one of her kind and the book also has a Shrek element to it where Monster falls in love with Monster. We will definitely be considering this title for our YFantasy collection at the library. This is why we are giving this book 4 stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to enjoy this, and there's nothing *wrong* with it exactly, it's just...sort of there. The yokai angle is really interesting, but there were so many different types to keep track of I kept getting lost. We had a compassionate prince, a headstrong girl, and an outcast boy pining for the girl...it just wasn't for me, but I hope other readers will enjoy it. DNF at 30%.