Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy, Fairytale retelling
Pub date: Oct. 2017 (read Jul. 2017)
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns seems to have some pretty mixed reviews. Some people seem to love it, while others are not enjoying it at all. To be honest, I thought I would probably be in the latter category since I listened to it as an audiobook (and I find audiobooks pretty hit or miss) and fairytale retellings aren’t really my favourite.
But damn, I did actually really like this, even as an audiobook. I didn’t properly read the synopsis and I went into this thinking it was a snow white retelling, but it’s actually an origin story of the evil queen, set in an East Asian fantasy world! A much more enthralling concept in my opinion!
I admit that I didn’t love this at first – the first few chapters nearly put me and my friend to sleep on a road trip, but it picks up pretty quickly and there is some really engaging nastiness later in the plot and I loved watching Xifeng navigate down an increasingly dubious path.
To give a bit of background, Xifeng has grown up in a tiny village in the empire of Feng Lu. For the first 18 years of her life she has been under the tyranny of her Aunt Guma. Guma reads in the cards that Xifeng’s destiny is to become the Empress of Feng Lu, so she educates her and teaches her the ways of blood magic in order to toughen her up. At the hands of her aunt’s abuse, Xifeng learns that her beauty is her most important asset and that it must be protected at all times.
Guma wants to help Xifeng succeed, but after a disturbing vision, Xifeng decides its time to leave her aunt and her village behind in order to seek her fortune. She escapes the village with her childhood friend and lover, Wei. Wei wants nothing more than to marry and protect Xifeng, but she believes in a different destiny for herself, and though she loves Wei, she keeps him at an arms length as they make their way towards the imperial city.
Like I said, this book has a lot of blood and nastiness in it, but I loved it. Xifeng makes some questionable decisions to protect her beauty and find her way into the imperial palace. But she is super determined and I admired her for continuing to chase after her fortune, even though it meant many sacrifices along the way and a blind faith that her circumstances would improve. The drama within the palace walls was thrilling and I’m really interested to see where Dao takes this in the next book.