Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1) by Julie C. Dao

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Pages: 377
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: The Wrath and the Dawn meets Snow White and the Huntsman in this dark and mystical East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress.

     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. 

     Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with both breathtaking pain and beauty, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns possesses all the hallmarks of masterful fantasy: dazzling magic, heartbreaking romance, and a world that hangs in the balance. Fans of Heartless, Stealing Snow, and Red Queen will devour this stunning debut.

     My Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an origin story of the Evil Queen in “Snow White” set in a country that strongly resembles ancient China. Xifeng is a peasant girl who dreams of becoming Empress. She believes that her destiny relies on this glorious future. The only obstacle standing in her way is a peasant named Wei, her childhood friend and love. As Xifeng gets closer to her goal, she realizes that she must decide to give up not only Wei, but also a part of herself and her beliefs. Must Xifeng become the heartless dark queen that she was destined to be or could she become Empress by not taking a dark path?

     As someone who loves reading and writing about ancient imperial China (You can read my history articles on ancient China here), Forest of A Thousand Lanterns seemed to be right up my alley. As soon as it hit release day, I quickly bought it, hoping that I would love it and be one of my favorite reads. However, this novel did not meet my expectations. It took me almost two months to finish this book, and I struggled picking it up again. Instead of reading for enjoyment, it became a book I read just to get it over with.

     Xifeng did not feel like a fully fleshed out character. Because this is a villain origin story, I knew that I would go into the book knowing the nature of the main character. However, Xifeng was a character that I never really got to know. I never understood her motivations for becoming the evil queen. She was mostly a passive character in her own story with no depth and conflicts to her actions. I did not understand why she wanted to be empress. Her ambitions were never explained. She seemed to be just a plot device to move the story forward and never a complex character.

     Overall, this story is about love, sacrifice, and ambition. I thought that the rest of the characters were very stereotypical. It had a promising premise but was not executed well. There was not much of a plot, and most of the novel seemed to be filler. Therefore, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns reads like a long drawn out prologue. The good points of this book was that I love the author’s lyrical writing, and it piqued my interest in the sequel. While Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is certainly not the best debut novel of 2017, I still look forward to reading more of the author’s work to see if she has improved. I recommend this novel for fans of The Star-Touched Queen, Flame in the Mist, and Shadows on the Moon.

Rating: 2½ out of 5 stars


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