Set in an alternative feudal era Japan-like country, this story follows Mari, born a yokai or demon, and her attempt to become Empress.
The Emperor has had built 4 rooms, one for each season, that prospective empresses must conquer to win the hand of the reluctant Prince Taro.
Mari has been trained for this her whole life by her mother, an Animal Wife – who seduce wealthy men, marry them and steal their fortunes before retreating to their secretive village in the mountains.
Meanwhile in the capital city yokai are forced to wear iron collars that cause them pain and serve the humans. However a revolution is brewing and Mari’s friend Akira is drawn in.
This is a really interesting book, Japanese mythology is rich with unusual creatures, ghosts and monsters. Emiko Jean has woven just a few into this tale of survival – ancient beings against the humans who would wipe them out or enslave them.
The plot is gripping, with shades of the Hunger Games, drawing on the rich mythology and geography of Japan’s islands. The characters are well rounded and likeable.
The way it ends suggests there could be a sequel but it can also be read as a standalone novel.
It’s refreshing to have a different traditional backdrop in YA, rather than the Western mythos that has been common over the last few years (minus a few books like the excellent Jade City). I’m interested to see where the author goes next.