Book Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Posted September 16, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons

by Emiko Jean

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on November 6, 2018
Genre: Fantasy
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.


The other day, while I was reading this, I made a noise general disgruntlement.  My husband cocked an eyebrow and asked: if I wasn’t enjoyed the book, why not just put it down?  And here’s the messy, complicated answer to that.  Because Empress of All Seasons is one of my owned books, and because it’s an #OwnVoices story, I feel like I owe it to the book to give it that extra chance.

But if I’m being completely honest with myself, I have to come to terms with the fact I didn’t enjoy my experience with Empress of All Seasons. There were a lot of good things about this book, but it was also a bit of a mess.  For me, the mess outweighed the moments of cleverness and joy.

The concept here is really fantastic.  If a girl can conquer all four seasons, she can win herself the hand of the prince and the eventual role of empress.  Add to that the fact this story is stooped in Japanese folklore, and it should be a perfect mix.  The elements of a great story were here, but this book was lacking in execution.  I was flabbergasted when Mari conquered the Summer Room in ten pages.  The worlds inside these rooms – infinities folded into a confined space – were more alive than any other place in the book.  I didn’t just want her to get from one end to the other.  I wanted her to really fight the elements.  To climb the mountain.  To get to know her competitors, be saved and be betrayed.

I would have happily read a whole book about conquering each of these rooms, I really would have.  It could have been a single POV quartet and it would have been glorious.

But that’s not what we get here.  Mari’s journey comprises approximately 1/3 of this book.  She grows in spurts, and her physical beauty is mentioned in about every chapter.  She forms relationships extremely quickly, seems to trust everyone but isn’t naive, and gets what she sets after with almost no struggle.  I’m not saying “I didn’t relate to Mari” or “Mari is flat”… I”m saying that we powered through her scenes so quickly and pushed forward the plot with such a singular force that we never got to know Mari.

Taro and Akira made up the other two POVs, and thus, the other two corners of the love triangle. That’s right, we’ve got the “boy next door” trope, and we’ve got instalove.  YAY.  I personal found Taro’s POV to be completely unnecessary to the story.  Every one of his chapters could have been trimmed, and it would not have affected the story at all.  I liked Akira a little better, but I had the same problem with him as I had with Mari.  We never had the opportunity to know him, and he never really earned his advancement in the story – things snapped into place as was needed to move the plot along.

I felt like the story changed, too.  At first it was Mari’s story about finding herself and becoming empress and proving her worth against her family’s values and there was so much emphasis put on the Animal Wives.  But then Akira came along and everything shifted to the treatment of yokai and revolution.  It reminded me of writing a NaNo Novel – you start with a great idea then on Nov. 17th, you realize you actually have a better idea and just shift gears and tell yourself you’ll go back and tighten up the beginning later.  Everything jolted and rushed along, and none of the trailing threads were tied up in a satisfactory manner.

Stylistically, there were some things that really bothered me.  This are personal opinions – I’m a reader who actually doesn’t mind purple prose so take all this with a grain of salt.  But stylistically I felt there were a lot of filler words in the writing.  Minor, minor bits like “she had run” instead of “she ran” that were just awkward to stumble over.  Additionally, all the Japanese terminology was italicized.  There is a glossary in the back of the book so I suppose that was the motivation, but as a reader I find it super distracting.  Thoughts and dialogue is one thing – italicized vocab within the narration is another.  I’m sure other readers really enjoyed this, but it’s not my thing and kept popping me out of the story.

*deep breath* Overall, I didn’t really enjoy Empress of All Seasons.  I like the pitch – I like the idea behind the story.  But I slogged through this one.  The writing style really wasn’t a fit for me and the whole book left me feeling really unsatisfied.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★
Plot: ★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★
Pacing: ★ 1/2
Personal Enjoyment: ★★

Two and a Half Stars


Empress of All Seasons Will Be Donated

Empress of All Seasons was such a struggle for me.

I’d plucked the book off my TBR pile a full five days before I made myself sit down and crack it open.  Then, I found myself reading only a few words at a time because I was bored.  Eventually I took one of my days off work and told myself my only job that day was to finish that book.  It took six hours.  Well, like 5 1/4, I ate lunch in the middle.  But it was such a struggle for me personally to read it that I don’t think it’s a book I’d ever been motivated to pick up again.

So instead, I’m going to put it in the pile for the Little Free Library.  I’m hoping it will find its way into the community and to the hands of someone who will like it.


Can you recommend any good book inspired by Japanese folklore?  I don’t read nearly enough books inspired by various Asian cultures and if you’ve got a novel in mind, I’d love to hear about it!  Let me know in the comments!

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