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Publisher's Summary

Winnner 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 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 in this beautiful, edge-of-your-seat young adult fantasy.

©2019 Emiko Jean (P)2019 Orion Publishing Group LTD

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A horrible ending...

I don’t want to spoil to much but I’ll start by saying that I feel like there were so many missed opportunities throughout the book. It started off beautifully. I love how the creation story set everything up and I actually really enjoy Jean’s writing style. The concept of the season rooms and the trial itself was quite interesting. Although, the riddles for each were painfully obvious and shouldn’t have taken as long as it did to figure out. Throughout the book, the story pans from character to character, sharing the perspectives of Mari, Akira, and Taro. Usually when a story is narrated in different perspectives, I find myself drawn to one character’s storyline more than the others. But here, I was equally interested in all of the characters, so in my opinion that was really well done. Although I must admit, each character is rather questionable at moments. On one level, I absolutely adore Akira because he’s just so lovable. On the other hand, it just seems that his only character point is ‘Loves Mari’. Really, I feel like all of the male characters lack any depth whatsoever. This book portrays all men (except Akira) as selfish, arrogant and hateful creatures. While it portrays women as victims of the world, vengeful, righteous, and just. And coming from a woman, I have to say I wasn’t impressed by the male representation. There’s no balance here and overall it just feels like a man-hating story based on the way she portrays many of her characters and writes the ending. And oh the ending. To say the least, things escalate. The pacing felt all over the place. There was 10 minutes left and it still felt like the problem wasn’t resolved in the slightest. The escalation took more than an hour to unfold and the rise lasted 5 minutes. And in the end I was left feeling rather unsatisfied. On the upside, I suppose there were no loose ends... the author just burned the rope so there was nothing to tie. The ending doesn’t seem to compliment the story leading up to it. Instead, it just makes a lot of the plot seem kind of pointless. I also feel like she could have done something with the outcasted sons of animal wives but she chose to to leave it out and I’ll respect her decision. As for the narration, I enjoyed Hanako Footman’s reading. Her voice is pleasant and easy to listen to. However, she really could have checked how to pronounce certain words if she was uncertain. I almost screamed every time she said the word ‘palanquin’ (pal-un-keen) which she read as “pa-lan-kwin”. There were a couple other words which she kinda botched but it wasn’t too frequent so it’s totally forgivable. Overall, I have really mixed feeling about the story. I thoroughly enjoyed some parts and heavily disliked others. I still can’t quite make out what the message of the story is. “Women don’t need men”? “Men are horrible leaders”? If that is the message then I’m quite disappointed. But of course, that’s only my interpretation. I don’t think it’s a horrible book but I don’t think it’s a great one either. I think some people will really enjoy it and others might hate it. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it but I don’t think it was a waste of my time. I’d say give it a read and if you don’t like it you can always return it.