Review: The Living by Isaac Marion

Review: The Living by Isaac Marion

This review will contain some spoilers so please consider avoiding reading it until after you’ve finished The Living!

Some of the scenes are pure magic.

The moment when Nora finds out M’s secret, the whole episode in the church with R on stage, the big showdown regarding BABL and the very last scene of all were stunning. It’s very difficult to talk about them all in detail, without giving some massive spoilers, but they made for a great read. In a way I wish there had been more scenes like the final one, as it’s circularity was really something special.

For me, the amount of chapters devoted to ‘We’ was a little frustrating at first. The characters I cared for most were all with Julie and R, so seeing the journey of other individuals mattered a little less to me. However, by the end of the novel, I found that the ‘We’ chapters were complementing the journeys of our main protagonists. The level of care and thought that was put into shaping the structure of this novel was impressive. I will be re-reading The Living in the future because of Isaac Marion’s lyrical writing style. The prose sang and there were some really thoughtful comments on the nature of our lives and how tragedy shapes us. Learning more about ‘The Library’ was fascinating, especially in the latter half of the book.

In The Living some of the hard and fast rules established earlier in the series seemed to have been bent a little bit. Avoiding spoilers on this is tricky, so I’ll just say that I’m referring to something that happens in the second half of the book which has a major impact on one of our characters. By the end of the novel I had a better sense of how this change in ‘rules’ came about, but perhaps the unpredictability of what happened is also a reminder of how things in life rarely follow a set path.

The world of Warm Bodies has expanded a lot since the first book and The Living shows this perfectly. I know this is the final book in the series but I do wonder whether there is room for more novellas like New Hunger expanding on the lives of some of the secondary characters. The author of the almanac is the person I’m thinking about most. The snippets we heard of Huntress’ life were enough to make me want to read a lot more about her.

The Living is not only the conclusion of R’s story but also a novel with lots of inbuilt commentary on our own changing world. A fascinating read and one I would recommend to all fans of Warm Bodies.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to read this final instalment in the Warm Bodies series through NetGalley — thank you to NetGalley, Isaac Marion and Zola Books for the chance to read. The Living is published November 13th and is available online, as both a hardcover book and an e-book.






Review: Empress of All Seasons

Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

I’m loving the move to more diverse worlds in YA fiction recently. This is the second Japanese inspired novel I’ve read this summer and I’ve loved both of them.

The Concept

The premise is very high-concept. What would happen if a magical woman whose very freedom is banned tries to win the hand of the emperor’s son in a high-stakes contest? Mari is a yokai. She is an Animal Wife whose people seek wealthy husbands in order to take their wealth for themselves. Mari sets out to do her duty and try and win the hand of the emperor.

YA novels involving competitions are usually very predictable and what I loved about this story was that the contest didn’t occupy every moment of the novel.

The Characters

Mari wasn’t preoccupied with the idea of finding love through a game, like so many of the heroines of past stories. Instead, she was going to find herself and do her duty by her people. And that is exactly what she did. She is fierce!

The other characters are also fascinating. The emperor’s son Taro loves to make mechanical creatures. Seeing the journey of his clockwork bird high into the sky as it crashed, trapped just as much as he was, was one of my favourite scenes in the first part of the novel.

Mari and Taro are the first two point of view characters. The third is Akira, Mari’s friend and another yokai. He is known as the Son of Nightmares. The details about his origins felt real, adding depth to the world Emiko Jean has created. Even though I liked Akira, I didn’t enjoy the chapters from his perspective quite as much. I wasn’t entirely sure why. The other side characters, including Mari’s maid Sei, were much more interesting to me.

The World

The world building in this novel was incredible. Japanese influences were blended with the existence of fantasy monsters to create a world that felt so real. The idea of priests who could hold back monsters through curses written on their skin felt so real, as did the mountaintop village Mari came from.

My favourite aspect of the world in this novel, however, was the rooms of the four seasons. Our first insight into the power of the rooms is early on, through Taro’s eyes, when we see how one poor captured yakoi will be tortured on the orders of the emperor in one of the rooms. During the competition the competing girls have to make their way through the four themed rooms. In the Summer Room they will face punishing heat, with fires burning in the trees. In the Winter Room there will be snow and punishing cold. In short, the weather will be turned against them. It is described how nature will reward the competitors for their positive actions and turn against them for their mistakes. Some will kill for the chance to become empress, as Mari will find out…

The Message

I wasn’t so keen on the lack of happy interludes that might have added a bit of lightness to the story. I know this novel was focused on the feminist message that Mari could gain happiness without seeking to please a man, which I really enjoyed, but I liked Taro’s character too. I would have liked more scenes where they were together and perhaps a slightly less bittersweet ending for him.

Overall thoughts

The Empress of All Seasons was an exciting journey through an original world with characters that grew on me with each page.

I’m going to give it an overall 4.5 stars, rounded up to five for Goodreads, as on the whole I loved the adventure Mari had. I hope Emiko Jean considers writing more novels set in this world as the worldbuilding was phenomenal and the experiences of the yokai were so engaging. I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next!


Thank you to Orion Publishing Group, Gollancz, Emiko Jean and NetGalley for the opportunity to read in exchange for an honest review.