Books · Reviews · Spoiler-Free

Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean | An Enchanting Feminist Tale

Thank you so much to Gollancz / Orion Books for kindly providing me with a review copy of Empress of All Seasons.

This is a spoiler-free review and all opinions are my own.

Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Title: Empress of All Seasons
Author: Emiko Jean
Publisher: Gollancz / Orion Books
Publication Date: 8 November 2018
Length: 384 pages

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 palaceโ€™s enchanted seasonal rooms. Conquer Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Marry the prince.

 
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Previous Installments

This is a standalone novel (for now).

Sweet Bits

๐ŸŒธ โ€œMen are conditioned to take. Women are conditioned to give. Never let a man take anything from you. Your smiles, your humour, your body.โ€ ๐ŸŒธ

I loved the feminism in this – YES! Finally! Gone are the days where I had to trudge through the bitchiness and rivalry and just unnecessary girl hate.

Here, everyone had their own agenda and reasons for why they wanted the throne, but surprisingly none had to do with actual romance or getting the prince. Instead, they joined forces, made alliances, and actually bonded.

Exciting? Heck yeah!

This camaraderie was so wholesome โค I loved Mari and the Animal Wives – their loyalty, their drive, their ruthlessness, how they treated each other like family despite not sharing any blood.

โ˜€๏ธ โ€œOur bodies are not ornaments, they are instruments.โ€ โ˜€๏ธ

I loved learning about all the different yokai and the different elements from Japanese culture. If you’re a folklore geek like me, you’ll feel on top of the world with this book!

All the characters had something unique to them – a hidden struggle, a hidden story, something that made them truly interesting. The cold prince is not just a vapid royal. The Son of Nightmares is not just a shy, kind nobody. The Animal Girl is not just an ugly black sheep.

๐Ÿ‚ “Silence is the cousin of invisibility.” ๐Ÿ‚

The last few chapters and the ending were actually my favourite. It was completely unexpected and didn’t follow the usual happily-ever-after formula.

Bitter Bits

โ„๏ธ โ€œNot every happily-ever-after includes a man.โ€ โ„๏ธ

Instalove… Why oh why? Even though the relationship kind of grew on me, and I found them pretty cute in places, I never really understood how or why it began. Their feelings were just too sudden (especially his) and inexplicable.

I mean, we are told Mari is not beautiful – in fact, quite the opposite. So instant attraction is not really an option here. But we aren’t given any other reasons as to why she is suddenly so desirable.

๐ŸŒธ โ€œDo not let your fear decide your fate.โ€ ๐ŸŒธ

I felt the rooms were too easy and were over way too soon. I’m usually not very good at riddles and even I was able to figure them out quickly. Yet the way Mari and the other girls managed didn’t make much sense to me – similar to when a light bulb pops up on top of a cartoon character’s head.

The competition required a lot more challenge, both physical and mental, to win me over. In the end, it just felt like a poorly thought-out plot device to move the story forward – there was so much potential to it, so much that could have been explored, yet barely anything actually happened?

Most of the focus lay beyond the seasonal rooms, and while that could have worked marvellously to bring the reader closer to the characters and further empathise with them, it ended up creating an imbalance and producing the opposite effect: I just didn’t feel all that connected to anyone.

โ˜€๏ธ โ€œIf you train on all weapons, you master none.โ€ โ˜€๏ธ

The first third of the book felt so slow and boring… Which is a shame because I really enjoyed the rest of it. Had it grabbed my attention from the very start and I would have easily given this 4 solid stars!

Overall

Empress of All Seasons was a pleasant surprise. Despite struggling with the first few chapters, it ended up taking me on a lovely journey through the beautiful Japanese scenery and all its rich history.

I didn’t enjoy the romance all that much, but I don’t think it actually carries too much weight here. The dreaded love triangle was well executed – again, without taking away from the story – while both friendships and family bonds took centre stage.

The world-building and folklore are truly what bring this book to life, yet its characters were not too far behind: they ebbed with the flow and each layer revealed more than meets the eye, constructing a gentle yet engaging narrative.

Duplicitous personalities, ever-changing loyalties, feminist nods and an incredible finale would have made Empress of All Seasons a spectacular read. But alas, I needed a bit more excitement, consistency and higher stakes to feel completely satisfied.

3.5 Stars

๐Ÿ“–  What recent title left you feeling underwhelmed?
๐Ÿ“–  Which elements tend to instantly grab your attention?
Let me know in the comments below! ๐Ÿ™‚
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31 thoughts on “Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean | An Enchanting Feminist Tale

  1. I had teh exact same struggle this week with the beginning and the romance of a all other book Sophie! The last Namsara! I even thought I would DNF but I am glad that I read it!

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    1. Oh no! I’m so sorry to hear it, Sophie ๐Ÿ˜ฆ That’s a shame… I’m very picky about romance, so it needs to be well written to grab my attention and keep it until the very end. Even though I enjoyed some bits of it, I never felt it was genuine or made to last. Which simply doesn’t interest me.
      I have yet to read that series, but I’ve heard a lot of great things about it! Great that you ended up enjoying it still ๐Ÿ™‚ Hopefully your next read is even better! โค

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  2. What a thorough and well-written review! I’ve wondered about this book because I’ve seen the cover pop up a lot and it’s pretty eye catching. I don’t think it sounds like my kind of thing, especially given some of the “bitter bits” you mentioned, but it was interesting to learn what it’s about and also that it has that camaraderie (not so common in women-compete-for-the-throne type scenarios!)

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    1. Aw thank you, Nicola! I’m glad you liked it ๐Ÿ™‚ Same here, I was enamoured with it from the very beginning and NEEDED it in my shelves hahaha Unfortunately my expectations might have been a bit too high here…
      It’s not that it was bad, far from it. It just wasn’t as amazing as I was hoping it would be. I would definitely recommend it still, I mean, there’s a lot to like about it!
      I was certainly surprised about that too, and the overall message/ending was what made this book totally worth the read in my opinion. It’s not often that I see such a brilliant representation of female empowerment in YA.
      So, who knows, you might love it! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great honest review! I haven’t read this book but heard mixed reviews about it! I can understand why it’s a three and half stars read for you. I’m not fan of slow starts and insta-love either but the folklore sounds amazing. I’ll definitely give it a shot!

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    1. Thank you, Raven! โค I think it's very much worth the read, for all I've said above. Some things were less stellar but they are very personal to me and might not bother other readers. So I maintain my recommendation ๐Ÿ™‚
      I was definitely expecting more from it but overall it was a wonderful read! I hope you enjoy it even more than I did, hon ๐Ÿ˜€ I look forward to your review ^^

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  4. This is a lovely review, Sophie, thank you so much for sharing! I’ve read a couple of mixed reviews about this book, so I’m a little unsure about whether or not I will be reading it, but I have to say, I’m really curious about these fantastic characters ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you so much for sharing! โค

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  5. I recently finished Shadow of the Fox, which is also Japanese-inspired. I loved the yokai nature as well, but the characters and everything else felt kind of flat to me. This one’s sounding like a better read, despite the weird instalove. BUT!! I’m all for fantastic feminism and women with purpose, so hell yeah I’m interested in reading this. Fantastic review, lovely!

    โค Aimee @ Aimee, Always

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    1. I just read your review – and I completely get it! I feel that you might find this one subpar as well, but in reverse – the characters were better developed, but the story itself just wasn’t as gripping or flowed as well as Shadow of the Fox (in my opinion). It’s a tough choice to make!
      The feminism and unpredictable ending helped its case a lot, though ๐Ÿ˜› Definitely give it a go, just in case!
      Thank you so much, hon โค

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  6. I feel like I need to revisit this book after reading your review! I do love books that have Japanese folklore and the feminist aspect is super intriguing. The book was super slow for me and I ended up setting it aside. I think that I might give it another go and see if it turns around for me. Lovely review, Sophie! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. I felt the same way at the beginning and had to literally force myself to pick it up and give it another chance. It took me until about a third for it to really grab my attention and start feeling enjoyable, so I completely understand. It took months for me to gather the will to do it! But I think it paid off in the end ๐Ÿ™‚
      I certainly hope it does turn around for you! There’s a wonderful message to it, and despite its flaws it ended up being a great read.
      Thank you so much! โค

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  7. Fantastic review! I’m always all-ears (or at least, I’ll give a second look) when I hear a book has good family relationships and beautiful settings. Not to mention, I love it when a book doesn’t have a traditionally happy ending; I find a bit of bitterness in a finale more satisfying myself. ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s just a shame that the rest of the book didn’t do it justice; sounds like it would’ve been a great read otherwise!

    I wonder btw, what IS it with YA and insta-love nowadays?! It’s been so many years since people have been complaining about this, yet it still manages to plague every YA book out there. ๐Ÿค”

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    1. Thank you so much! Oh then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one ๐Ÿ™‚
      It’s true that it wasn’t stellar, overall, but it wasn’t a bad read at all. 3.5 stars is a very good rating in my opinion! Anything below a 3 will be a negative experience for me, but otherwise a fine book to spend an afternoon with. Not amazing but not terrible either.
      There were a lot of things that I loved and a lot of things that were just “meh”, which gave birth to this lukewarm analysis of it…
      I DON’T KNOW!!! I thought we’d been over it a few years ago but it sounds like some authors missed the memo and decided to revisit it? LOL
      To be honest, the instalove doesn’t actually influence the story all that much and feels almost one-sided… I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t say any more, but yeah. It wasn’t a big deal overall.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For sure! I too have books whose elements I really disliked, but then the other elements pulled it through for me, which left me with a net lukewarm feeling. But if it has potential, always up for giving it a go!

        lol btw I’d like to get out a megaphone and blare it into those authors’ ears that insta-love is a thing of the past (or it should be). Maybe THEN they’ll get the memo. ๐Ÿ˜‚

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  8. This sounds like a really interesting novel. I actually hadnโ€™t heard of it. For me, the romance needs to pull me in. If it doesnโ€™t, I get kinda eh about it. Although, it depends. Some stories donโ€™t really need romance to make it shine but others I feel like they do need it so when they fail, I end up meh about it *shrug* Lovely review!
    Genesis @ Whispering Chapters

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    1. I’m pretty much the same! I felt the romance didn’t weigh in a lot here so I could still keep reading even if it didn’t do much for me. It had its moments where I actually enjoyed it, but overall it didn’t affect me. But sometimes it does ruin a novel for me.
      I surely hope you love it if you decide to give this a go ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks so much โค๏ธ

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  9. I’ve heard about this book but I actually didn’t know too much about the plot so I am glad I got to know a bit more about it.
    The world does sound really cool and I love the Japanese culture in it and probably would be one of the reasons I would check this book out.
    I like the the characters all have a purpose and their own agenda. And of course I love that the book has feminist power. I am definitely interested to see what the last chapters are now!!
    It’s a shame some parts of this book fell short for you but I’m glad that overall you enjoyed it. Lovely review!! โค

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    1. I’m not surprised, I haven’t seen this book being promoted all that much… But once I knew what it was about, I had to get it! It’s especially nice that it counts towards my YARC challenge ๐Ÿ˜Š
      I hope you give it a go sometime and that it speaks to you in some way – I know it did to me, even if it wasn’t completely perfect!
      Thank you so much, Sophie ๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’›

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  10. The cover is amazing, Sophie. Just gorgeous. I like your sweet bit, and it’s too bad that insta-love sort of undid that point. But it still sounds like a good read. Thanks for sharing your review and for the recommendation!

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    1. Isn’t it? I don’t think I would have been drawn to it solely based on the blurb so it really helped that it had gorgeous Japanese-inspired artwork to go with it ๐Ÿ˜Š
      I definitely recommend it to those who wish to explore the culture and folklore, even if it falls a bit short on the rest!
      Thank you so much for reading, Diana ๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’›

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hahha quite a few books are leaving me underwhelmed… Blessedly I read Cry Pilot and it helped pull me out of my reading slump. โค๏ธ I’m glad you found so much to like about this Sophie. I really liked the Japanese details that she did include but I wanted everything to fleshed out more. I especially agree about the rooms shallowness (nothing much happened!) And I wasn’t a fan of the romance either. Still it was a different little premise with some neat characters,

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