Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Series: Rise of the Empress #1
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Retelling
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.
I had a lot of mixed feelings about Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. I was really excited to begin reading it because I love retellings, and it was even more exciting that it was from the perspective of the Evil Queen from Snow White. However, I almost stopped reading halfway through the book. I decided to finish it, and I’m very glad I did, but it was not necessarily the exciting read I was anticipating.
The book begins with the main character, Xifeng, watching the newly selected concubine of the emporer be carried to the palace. Xifeng lives in a small village with her aunt, and struggles to not feel envious of those who have easier lives than hers, especially of the newly selected concubine passing by. Even though she is a peasant, Xifeng has been told by her aunt that she is destined for greatness. Her aunt can use magic, and sees that Xifeng’s destiny is to become Empress of Feng Lu – she just has to find a way into the palace and win over the emporer first. However there is another in her village who claims to love her and wants a life with her, causing inner turmoil in Xifeng.
This first part of the book with Xifeng in the village and her eventual travel to the palace was very slow, and why I almost stopped reading. It was important for her backstory, but not necessarily thrilling. However, once Xifeng finally did reach the palace, things became interesting. The dynamics of the court, and between Xifeng, the other women and the eunuchs kept me on my toes. There is a lot of competition for the Emporers attention, which causes Xifeng to delve into her sinister side that she spent years trying to suppress. She eventually discovers things about her past and herself that alters the course of her destiny, pushing her onto a darker path she can’t come back from. The second half of the book was intense and enthralling.
Overall the writing and imagery of the book was fantastic and I adored the setting. The plot was a little on the slow side for me, but ended up being well worth the read. The main character Xifeng isn’t a character to fall in love with or root for, but one whose tale was morbidly fascinating and macabre. I rate this book a 4/5 and recommend it for those who love a dark retelling.
Have you read this series? What was your thoughts? Let me know down in the comments!