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.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Emiko Jean is the author of the psychological suspense novel, We'll 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. www.emikojean.com 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.
CHAPTER 1 Mari
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.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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%.