Fiction Books, YA Books

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao – Book Review

I read this book recently after it sat on my shelf for ages! I got this in a previous Fairyloot box and I just never got round to reading it but with the sequel coming out I thought it was time to read it! I’m so glad I finally picked it up because I really loved this book!

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Rating: 4/5

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

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.

This is an east Asian retelling of the Evil Queen. Her journey to becoming empress and what lengths she will go to, to achieving what she wants. It is dark and twisted and you will quickly get caught up in Xifeng’s story and her rise to power.

“If my beauty is my greatest weapon, vanity is the shield that protects me.”

The story deals with the power of beauty and the lengths people will go to, to keep it. Xifeng is beautiful and she knows it and is willing to use that beauty to get what she wants and won’t let anyone stand in her way. Even though she is clearly the villain in this story I was still rooting for her. She is wonderfully complex and dark and we often see her ugly side, even though she is seen as beautiful, her inner beauty is lacking.

She feels that because of her beauty she deserves the power of wealth of being empress. But she is also smart and cunning. She knows how to play the long game and navigate the politics of living in the emperors palace. I’m glad that we got to see her vulnerable side too, how she second guessed herself at times or how she was torn between getting what she wants and being with the man she loves. It made her a more well rounded character as we get to see different aspects of her.

“She knew her own worth. She would seize her destiny with all the strength and spirit within her, and bend them all to her will: every man kneeling and every woman overshadowed.”

This story has lots of political and court intrigue, we see Xifeng navigate living in the palace with the empress and how she has to balance between all the other characters in power. There is lots of manipulation and deceit that happens in this book, from Xifeng doing the manipulation to Xifeng even being manipulated at times too.

The world that Julie creates is also wonderfully complex, intricate and detailed. I loved the rich imagery that is in the books which makes it so easy to imagine the world. I loved the way the Chinese culture and history is woven into the story.

I think my ownly issue with the book was the pacing. I felt it was a little slow in the middle as it dragged a bit but it is worth it to continue as the ending is much more fast paced and explosive. And I love the way it ended with Xifeng achieving her goal yet there is also the promise of more.

“She was a monster, a bride of the darkness, and she rose to face her destiny as though it were the blood-red sunrise of a new day.”

If you like dark retellings and origin stories of the villains then I’m sure you will love this. It is a fresh and original retelling but still ties in the Evil Queen and Snow White story of ‘who is the fairest of them all’

5 thoughts on “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao – Book Review”

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