Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

  • Screen Shot 2018-06-06 at 10.25.51 AM.pngMy rating: 3 out of 5 stars
  • Published by Philomel Books
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Amazon
  • Goodreads

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.

Continue reading for my review

This novel is a YA fantasy retelling of Snow White, but this story is about the Evil Queen and her origins, which I thought was rather interesting. Xifeng, our main character, is an antiheroine with a thirst for power and beauty, at whatever cost. It isn’t often that we get to see this kind of perspective in YA, but I thought it was poorly executed and unrealistic.

Dao attempted to portray Xifeng’s slow spiral into pure evil, but what we got was thoughts that seemed to come from two completely different people. One scene Xifeng was kind and daughterly and maybe even capable of love, but the next she is cunning and vain. There is no bridge between these two manners, she switches without reason and the result is choppy and strange to read. I love the idea that certain events and thoughts lead her to her ultimate role as villain, but the execution was poor, and, might I add, boring.

Although this was a fairly quick read for me, it was bo-ring. The first three-quarters of the book is introspection with a few action scenes mixed in and confusing info-dumps of world building. The world feels poorly constructed and it does not play as big of a role as I think it should.

The characters are shallow. Even our main character, Xifeng, who receives hundreds of pages of stream-of-conciousness, has no substance or life. I was completely indifferent to all the characters, which is strange considering Xifeng was supposed to be an evil antiheroine. I just didn’t care about her or her motives at all. The love was established through direct-writing only, there was no spark between the characters; all the relationships felt forced.

Despite all these negatives, I still gave the book three stars for these reasons:

  • The political intrigue was complex enough to interest me. It wasn’t overbearing; it added just enough to the story to make it seem more realistic
  • I like the Asian culture. Although it doesn’t align with true Chinese/Japanese culture (or geography lol), I’ll give it a pass since the world was inspired by them rather than based off of them
  • Some of the women have their bad-ass moments (although I dislike how they were mostly automatic enemies, there was a lot of unnecessary enmity)
  • I liked the tone of the story. The descriptions were long and boring, but they did their job. I could easily imagine the setting–the smells and the sounds and the sights came to life

Well, there it is. I know I’m a little late in reviewing this since many people received it in an Owl Crate a while back, but I saw it at the library and pretty cover made me want to give it a try. It was intriguing enough that I may read the next book when it comes out.

One response to “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao”

  1. Oh no, I was really looking forward to reading this one. I have the book but haven’t decided when to start… 😬 Well, I hope your next read would be much more enjoyable.


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