I received an ARC from Gollancz, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Title: The Empress of All Seasons
Author: Skyward #1
Release date : 8/11/2018
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.
This book was beautifully written. The world building is fantastic, it is rich and full of intrigue. The mythology behind the main plot for me was the best parts. It is mythology that I have not previously explored so really does add so much magic to the setting. I loved each of the interludes that told the gods stories.
However, I wanted more. The pacing of the book is very mixed. The narrative switches between many different perspectives and I sometimes found them hard to follow. We never really got a feel for any of the characters, and there is a case of insta-love, but the potential love triangle is snuffed out by the main protagonist which is refreshing. Some of the strongest and most interesting characters are side characters which add most of the action and intrigue to the story, but as they are side characters we never really get to explore them and most of their depiction is done in throw away comments, which the reader has to cling to.
What was most disappointing for me was the speed of which the competition was glossed over. This should have been the main focus of this book but the actual seasonal stages lasted less than a chapter. We don’t get a chance to revel in the description of these magical rooms or the various stages instead we are herded through them. It was extremely disappointing.
This is all changed with the ending! The ending smashes the story out of the park and is powerful and exciting! Overall I think most will enjoy this story and will leave it with a smile.