Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Series: Rise of the Empress
Author: Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publishing Date: October 10th 2017
Number of Pages: 363
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling
“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 want to thank Ate Erika @ The Nocturnal Fey for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour and Penguin Random House International for providing me an eARC. These, by any means, did not affect nor influence my review.*
“Your beauty is all you are, and all you have. Your only weapon.”
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a wicked read about beauty, power, dark magic and a girl’s quest for greatness.
First things first, I just want to say how beautiful Julie C. Dao’s writing is. Engaging right at the first page with excellence that was proven along the way. How could you not expect for a beautiful wicked ride?
It was set in an East Asian inspired world which I really loved. The story takes place in a continent called Feng Lu. And man, a map of Feng Lu is a need in my life. The rich and strong world building was evident from the very beginning. Chinese and Japanese names were even used. Forest of A Thousand Lanterns made me feel right at the very beginning like there was a Chinese historical movie playing in my head. I imagined the dragon dancing from China, their old houses and markets I usually see in movies, an Empress wearing those beautiful gowns with a crown full of jewels in her head. The experience is new and the feeling is refreshing for that I haven’t read a fantasy book with much East Asian influences yet.
Dao brought to life characters who each have different stories to tell and different purposes to fulfill but all the same strong in their own respective ways. Although some of them really left me conflicted, more specifically, the main character Xifeng and her lover Wei.
Xifeng, the anti-heroine, a peasant who climbed her way to the top with the goal of fulfilling what the cards have said her destiny, I must say, did a great job as an anti-heroine. But I cannot say that I really loved her character. She was plain confusing at times. She also did have double standards which really irked me. But what made me like her still, was that I saw a part of myself in her, that girl with ambition, that girl who doesn’t want anyone – specifically a man – to think low of her, that girl who wants to be on top. But there was still a soft spot inside her, there was still that girl who wants to protect her loved ones and be loved underneath the though surface.
Wei on the other hand, I may have liked him for the faithfulness and love that he showed all throughout but he was such a sexist I couldn’t handle him at times. He also can be close minded which was so irritating.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns also gives spotlight to women with great ambition, for women who knows that they have purpose and for women who believe that they are meant for greater things. This, alone, made Forest of a Thousand Lanterns a fierce, promising and beautiful read. As a woman who have an ambition, who knows that she has a purpose and believes that she is meant for greater things, this book hits home. I also love how the book screams that women wants to be able to choose and decide for themselves even if they live in a world where men think they own women.
Plot-wise, I also loved it so much. It was well constructed. It may be easy to figure at times, the ups, downs and turns will still make you not regret jumping into this ride.
Despite having characters with fairly strong voices, and aside for the fact that some also left me conflicted, I didn’t connect with any of them either which was disappointing. I would have loved this book even more if I connected with even just one or even just Empress Lihua or basically anyone. But even Princess Lihua felt distant to me, more especially Xifeng. And along the way I felt like it became easy to forget why Xifeng was doing all those things, that quest for greatness. At first I really liked the thought of it but as the story goes on I felt like her climb to the top was becoming senseless, tiring and boring. At some point, I wished for this book to have more than the story of how Xifeng was climbing her way to the top. I think side stories will do. Nevertheless, these didn’t make Forest of a Thousand Lanterns any less impressive.
For a debut novel, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is utterly impressive. Hats off to Julie C. Dao!
Watch out for this book and its anti-heroine. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns will go big. I recommend!
“I don’t want your hopes and dreams,” he said in a voice like a fresh-hewn blade. “I want you to give all of yourself to me. To be as much under my spell as I am under yours.”
“Isn’t it better to wake up each day, living for the present rather than waiting for the future?”
“For that is the way of the world,” Guma’s voice echoed. “Some are given a rope to the moon, and others claw up the sky.”
“Being underestimated can be a blessing in disguise,” “That is to say, it gives us a chance to astonish those who doubt our true worth.”
“She was a poem come to life, and each vein was a lyric.”
“I was born a woman into this world,” “And I will play the game, but I won’t lose.”
“But the hard decisions make us great. They make us who we are.”
“In weakness, you find your strength,”
Julie C. Dao (www.juliedao.com) is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books
about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to follow her passion of becoming a published author. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is her debut novel. Julie lives
in New England.
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