Friday, December 29, 2017

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

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns  
Author: Julie C. Dao 
Publisher: Philomela Books 
Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Format: Hardback 

Page Count: 363


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. (taken from

“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.” 

After seeing tons of mixed reviews on this unique release, I decided to give it a shot. However, I wasn't fully prepared for the evil story that lurks within these pages. 

Somehow I completely missed the memo that this was the tale of an anti-hero. I can honestly say this is one of the most original, intriguing villain tales I've ever stumbled upon, and if you love seeing the bad guy's background story, you'll gobble this novel up in a heartbeat. In a sense, I really enjoyed not knowing Xifeng's true colors before delving into her story. It made her struggles, temptations, and ultimate decisions more understandable. Even if I didn't love book that much, I can surely appreciate Xifeng's character depth and ambition. 

The world in which Xifeng lives is definitely magical, which I love, but I don't think Dao tapped its true potential. The history of the gods and mythical creatures is barely explained, and I found myself confused quite a few times. She definitely could have pushed things a little further and unfurled the plot in a more purposeful manner. 

Additionally, the plot seemed a little too convenient for my taste. Within a matter of chapters, Xifeng is already on her way into the inner royal circle. (Spoiler? Maybe, but I need to make this point.) Villains need to truly struggle, and although Xifeng undergoes her fair share of beatings and trials, some things fell a little too simply into her lap. I would have appreciated a more complicated rise to power. 

In all, I don't actually have that much to say about this one. It's extremely different from my usual reads, both in good and bad ways. The anti-hero theme is like a train wreck: you want to look away but you can't stop staring at the horror that's unfolding. That might have been enough to elicit a four or five star review from me, but the world building and plot development prevented me from doing so. Give it a shot if you want, but don't expect an epic fantasy or anything. Instead, prepare yourself for the evil queen's secret diary you've always wanted to glimpse. 

Xifeng's got some real issues... Like, murderous evil villain issues. This isn't a lighthearted read by a long stretch.