Publisher: Philomel Books
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retellings
Add to Goodreads shelf | Buy from Amazon | Buy from Wordery
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.
From the moment I read the words ‘East Asian fantasy re-imagining of The Evil Queen’, I was intrigued. I was lucky enough to get the chance to read an early copy and I am itching to share my thoughts on this deliciously dark tale. I promise to keep it short and non-spoilery!
Xifeng is an instantly complex character. From the very beginning I was torn between sympathy for her since she’s an orphan who is emotionally and physically abused by her cruel aunt, and wariness since some of the thoughts she has are a little bit dark… Despite this, I found myself warming to her and it was exciting reading about the destiny promised to her – that she would one day become Empress and rule over the Kingdom of Feng Lu, and seeing the lengths she’d go to in an attempt to bring about this promised future. The story follows her dark journey to her destiny and the obstacles she has to overcome, the friends and family she has to leave behind, and her own internal battle between good and evil.
The world-building in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is breathtaking. We have an East Asian setting used as the foundation for a rich, fantasy world. Julie C. Dao takes a classic, familiar tale and makes it uniquely her own. On the journey we encounter enchanted forests harbouring magical beings, and in the harem we are faced with ladies-in-waiting with sharp tongues and dark ambition. Xifeng befriends the Crown Prince and later on encounters the Emperor himself. And Wei, let’s not forget the handsome warrior who has been by her side since he was 9 years old and would lay the world at her feet if he could. I guess what I’m trying to say is, all of the side characters were just as important to the story and felt alive and relevant. Even Lady Sun, the Emperor’s concubine.
Villain origin stories can be amazingly exciting or quite dull, especially if the character is very good and then suddenly turns evil without any conflict or development. On the contrary, villain origin stories are meant to be complex and make us feel for the main character, even as we know they’ll eventually turn dark, and Julie nailed this. From the very beginning, Xifeng’s morals are questionable, and we see her battle between wanting to be good and yet willing to do anything in her power to fulfil her destiny. (Also, you know a villain origin story is good when you start rooting for the dark side to win). Julie C. Dao weaves a unique and dark tale dripping with stunning prose and promise of an unforgettable adventure. I cannot wait for more of her work, and for this book to finally be published so I can devour it all over again.
Favourite quote: TBC (when finished copies are available).
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. Follow her on Twitter @jules_writes.