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

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Series: Rise of the Empress #1
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Philomel Books
Published:  October 10th, 2017
Page Count:  363 pages
Format:  Hardcover
Source: Fairyloot

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.
*The Reader's Review*
My rating: 3/5 stars

It took me a long time to finish Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, but overall, this book turned out to be a solid story. Julie C. Dao's writing is beautiful and poetic--the perfect voice for a tale such as this one!

What I Liked:

I love fairytale retellings and even more from the point of view of the future antagonist! Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a retelling of The Evil Queen (Snow White) and I enjoyed when pieces of this enigmatic figure came up at certain points in the story.  Xifeng, the main character, battles with herself for the most part of the story, torn between wanting a simple life with the man she loves (or thinks she loves) to the life of an Empress she believes she is destined to have. Choosing to follow what she believes is her fate, she becomes ruthless and even eats the hearts of those that stand in her way, believing she is doing them a favor to live on within her.

Xifeng is not the most likeable character (for obvious reasons), but she has a certain charm. It's not often when I get to read books with an anti-heroine and I do like them a lot. It's entertaining to read how their minds work, how they transform and change throughout the novel from good to bad and vice-versa, just like Xifeng does in this story. Can't say I root for her, but I certainly want to see how far she goes.

However, I can say that I fell more for her traveling companions and Wei, her small-town lover. If there's one character I wish to read more about is him! He's not a perfect person, but he certainly fought for Xifeng, believing he could get her free from her aunt's clutches, not knowing he's also fighting Xifeng's own desires. 

What Left Me Wanting More:

Although Julie C. Dao's writing is beautiful and lyrical (could probably lose myself in her vivid descriptions), this book left me wanting more dialogue and action. More showing rather than telling. Xifeng's thoughts were interesting, but there came a time when it got too repetitive and made it harder for me to keep reading and not pick up another read.

With the above in mind, there were also some secrets revealed within this book without any form of reaction from Xifeng or other characters, which in turn made it duller for me as a reader. Perhaps this is a reflection of Xifeng's emotional state, but I do wish to have seen a bit of internal conflict. Especially with Guma, her aunt.

Final Verdict:

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a nice retelling about the Evil Queen and her rise to the throne before facing Snow-White. It is set in East Asia so there's beautifully imagery involved, but I do wish we could have explored more of it. There's always the sequel though!

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