A contest to choose the next empress of Honoku has three characters making decisions that will shape the empire and the fate of an enslaved people.
The empress of Honoku has always been chosen from among human women, through a contest of surviving the elements and demon yokai of the seasonal rooms of the imperial palace. Mari is from the clan of Animal Wife yokai, strikingly beautiful women who appear human but who also have a monstrous yokai form. They marry human men and abscond with their possessions to support the clan. Because Mari is plain, she is trained in combat from an early age to enter the competition and steal the imperial fortune—a huge risk, as many of the contestants die, and if her true identity is discovered, death is certain. Since the death of the empress, yokai have been hunted down, killed, and enslaved with impunity. Akira, son of a ghost-yokai and foreign human father, and in love with Mari, follows her to the city and is recruited into the yokai resistance. Despite his resentment in being a prize, prince Taro also finds himself drawn to Mari. The author uses Japanese folklore elements to effectively craft an engaging story that also questions the power structures of heaven and earth, male and female, human and yokai.
A narrative that will engage fans of the genre with a much-needed non-Western setting. (glossary) (Fantasy. 12-18)