Hey guys! I originally planned to review my japanese mythology reads separately, but with my hiatus, so much time had gone by that reviewing them together seemed better. I’m going to start with my least favorite and end with my favorite. Also, these are the only japanese mythology-inspired fantasies I have read, so if anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!
Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean
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.
Pros: I loved the variety of yokai included! In my other reads, mainly a couple of types, like kitsune, are focused on, but Empress of All Seasons mentioned a lot of more obscure yokai. There was also a lot of background mythology included, which I enjoyed.
Additionally, Jean did a good job of incorporating a message about beauty and female empowerment into her story. Mari is a less attractive outcast among her family, and her story of self-acceptance is an intriguing one.
Cons: I didn’t like the love triangle at all! There just wasn’t enough development to make it believable. I think if this had been expanded to a series, the relationships would have made more sense. As it was, all the romance felt kind of sloppy and shallow. I couldn’t get invested in any of it.
Similarly, the plot felt very choppy at times. If there had been more time, or more books, it could have been less abrupt. As a standalone, the timing was a little awkward.
Finally, I hated the ending. I guess it was supposed to send a feminist message, but it mainly felt rushed and kind of depressing.
Rating: 2.5 stars
Shadow of the Fox trilogy by Julie Kagawa
One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.
Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.
Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.
There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.
With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.
Ok, since this is a series, I’m going to skip the pro/con thing and share some thoughts from each book.
Shadow of the Fox (book 1): This was my favorite one by far! I loved seeing the team assembled, I found Yumeko and Kage’s relationship really adorable from the start, and the build up of the overall conflict was so interesting. 4/5 stars
Soul of the Sword (book 2): Sadly, this was my least favorite of the series. The main couple spent most of the time apart and the plot was very slow and drawn out. It felt like a filler. 2/5 stars
Night of the Dragon (book 3): I was hoping this would make up for the disappointing second book, but it had its own problems. After very little romantic development in the 2nd book, the romance was incredibly rushed in the first half of this one. Very little had happened in the first novel either, so this did not make a ton of sense and felt very fast. The second half of the book, which was one huge conflict, felt rushed in a different way. All these problems appeared and had to be solved very quickly. It was a little corny, like the rushed ending of a tv show that’s just been cancelled. A bunch of sad and unnecessary things also happened, which made the overall ending unsatisfying for me. 2.5/5 stars
Red Winter trilogy by Annette Marie
Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess-and not once has she doubted her chosen fate. Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command-whether she wants him or not. On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate-but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope… and hope is all she has left.
Although this is also a trilogy, the books read more like three parts of one story, so I’m just going to give it an overall review.
Pros: I could rave and rave about the romance, but I’ll try to keep it brief, lol. I love Shiro. So. Dang. Much. Shiro and Emi had such an awesome relationship, and their romantic development felt very steady and realistic. There are just so many moments when I couldn’t help squealing a bit. Any lovers of fantasy romances are seriously going to love this one. I’ve already gotten a few friends addicted, so I can attest to that.
Anyway, the plot is also very well written with a nice build. None of the books end on a cliffhanger, but I was completely hooked until the end of the trilogy. The battle scenes are so intense! I was on the edge of my seat a lot.
Another thing I loved was how well-defined the fantasy was. Although yokai were described in the other two I read, Red Winter has an entire hierarchy, and the differences between yokai and kami are clearly explained. I really liked this structure and detail, although it did make the first book a little info-heavy.
Cons: Well, it’s hard to say. The first book is definitely the hardest to get through (although it’s still not bad), because the world building is so in depth. Other than that, I’m having a hard time coming up with something…my main flaw is that there is only this trilogy. I need more books set in this world!!
Rating: 5/5 stars! I love this series💚
Ok, that is it for the reviews! I really loved exploring these fantasies, and Red Winter is definitely an all time favorite. Have you read any of these? What did you think? I’m going to finish with a brief Following Good section for each of these, so if you’re not interested, you can stop here. Happy reading!
Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean
This one was fairly clean. A minor LGBT couple, minimal language or sexual content. The religious content in all of these books is related to japanese mythology.
Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
This series started out very clean, but there ended up being heavy LGBT content and moderate sexual content. Minimal language.
Minimal language, no LGBT content, and some moderate sexual content near the end of the series.
Thanks for reading to the end! Hope you have a great day and happy reading!