Another YA fantasy I was really looking forward to. I jump on anything that’s Asian inspired. One review request was denied, and another was approved, so I was really pleased.
Only to find myself quite disappointed. It was okay, just felt like a generic YA fantasy with a predictable romance. The concept was quote unique and the world building was interesting, but something was just missing from this book for me.
The world focuses on humans and yōkai, demon like creatures with human faces and the power to transform into monsters. Some yōkai clans live in secret, those in the cities are servants and slaves to humans, and wear special collars to prevent them from using their powers.
The heroine Mari is part of an all-female clan of yōkai, they live in a secluded mountain village and make their lives by seducing men to marry and stealing their fortunes, only girl children are permitted to live. Mari is not the prettiest girl in the clan, she is one of the strongest and fastest. The best hope her mother has decided is for her to enter the Seasons contest. Girls from all over the land travel to the palace to conquer the magical Seasons rooms – Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, the sole survivor is the winner and will win the hand of the Emperor’s son and become Empress when the son inherits the throne.
Mari has been training as long as she can remember to enable her to win the contest. Slight issue though – yōkai are forbidden from entering. So Mari will have to keep her true identity secret.
Mari sets off for the Capitol city, running into friend Akira a half human, half yōkai outcast. Akira decides to head off to the Capitol to do what he can to help Mari. The third main character, the prince Taro. The emperor is a cold and brutal man, who rules through threats, fear and intimidation, particularly taken out on the yōkai slaves. Taro is much nicer, and much more gentle natured, he’s an inventor, he’s not interested in things like warring with the yōkai and conquering them.
As the story progresses, all three characters interact with each other. Mari is a strong, likeable character, Akira though is a love sick puppy. He’s determined to prove himself to Mari and seeks out a special kind of physical training with a mysterious legend of the art, who has a secret ulterior motive involving the yōkai and rebel yōkai.
Taro and Mari find themselves meeting. Taro was okay, if a bit boring and two dimensional, it’s obvious where the romance angle is going and, and for the most part, the plot is predictable. It’s got a decent pace to it. One thing I really did like was the mythology angle, every now and then there is a chapter which tells a God or Goddess’s origin story. It all ties in with the novel. There was a fair bit of action, and Mari handled herself surprisingly in the Seasons contest. There are lots of other girls competing and even though it’s winner takes all, you’re going to need allies to survive. Mari was strong and forward but she wasn’t nasty about it, like some of the girls were. Mari was honourable.
Mari was really the only character I actually liked. The plot took an unexpected twist towards the end of the novel. It’s one of those things that you know at some point something’s all going to go wrong. It’s a stand-alone so you know it’s going to wrap up. There’s got to be more to the story than just the Seasons contest. Didn’t see the end coming at all. And it did all wrap up in a way which concluded things and didn’t leave unanswered questions. The end did make me smile.
It wasn’t my favourite fantasy, it was okay. It had its moments.
Thank you to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for approving my request to view the title.