Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Published by Philomel Books on October 10, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Fantasy, Retellings
Pages: 363 Format: Hardcover Source: Purchased
An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.
Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?
Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.
I’m always game for a good retelling so when Julie C. Dao’s debut, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns popped on my radar I knew it was a must read. Filled with conninving characters, excellent worldbuilding, intricate writing, and a darkness that lurks at every turn, this story slowly surprises the reader then sinks it’s teeth in.
With some truly beautiful writing full of lush decriptions and incredible detail Dao manages to craft an exquisite world bursting with depth as well as breathe new life into an Evil Queen origin. She also doesn’t shy away from the dark, heady power that pulls people in and the actions of those in it’s sway. Honestly there’s quite a lot of abuse, violence, and gore.
Xifeng is a fiercely determined individual pursuing what she wants. She’s had a hard life but doesn’t let that stop her from making her own way. Her strategy and stubborness often conflict though her persistence sees her through. As far as other characters are concerned, I wasn’t really invested in anyone else though I did like the dynamics between Xifeng and the Empress.
Despite all these highs, there were definitely some lows, at least for me. It was a slower paced tale but it took me a long time to get into the story. I also felt the ending was a bit lackluster especially since this is the beginning of the series. When it comes down to it though, I’m just not a fan of villains. It’s hard for me to root for them and I kept second guessing all the decisions that Xifeng made.
Overall Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao was a wonderful retelling and a beautifully written story. Xifeng was a thrilling character to follow as she climbed her way to the top and I was fascinated by all the exquisite detail. I did have a few minor hang ups but I’m still excited to see what happens next. If you’re a fan of retellings and villains, this book is definitely for you!
Have you read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns? Do you like reading about villains?
Let me know in the comments below!