Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genre: YA, Fantasy, Retelling
Imprint: Philomel Books
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Date published: October 10, 2017
Page Count: 363
A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
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.
– MY REVIEW –
This book made me feel such a range of different emotions! But first, I just wanted to say that I went into this book forgetting that this was an origin story / retelling of The Evil Queen from the Snow White story, and then kind of remembering this about a third of the way through, when I looked at the Goodreads page for it again (because that part of the story lagged a bit for me). I also went in, feeling excited because I have always enjoyed Asian fantasy movies and TV shows, but had never had the privilege to encounter such a story in the form of a YA book before.
Another thing you should know, which will also affect my review, is that I am the type of reader and watcher who will often times root for the “villain.” I bawled my eyes out when watching Hannibal Rising, because I just felt sadness to the point of physical pain for Hannibal in that movie. The Darkling from Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series is also a favourite of mine, and I’m not sure if this counts as an example, but Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series is my favourite character in the books and the film adaptations! Since this is the origin story about one of the best-known villains, the Evil Queen from Snow White…well, I might have enjoyed it a little differently that others have. So, please keep that in mind while you read my review. Alright, so now that that’s out of the way…
I enjoyed the writing, and the imagery it evoked, and I was also happy to find that it was written in the third person. I was able to very easily picture everything that was happening in this story, from characters’ physical appearances, to all of the different settings. Due to having watched a few Asian fantasy films and TV shows, however, I cannot vouch that this was due to the author’s talent with writing descriptions or not, but I can say that her descriptions were very subtle and integrated into the text. What I mean by this is, that whenever something was described, you usually weren’t aware that the author was describing something to you (a.k.a. the opposite of “she was wearing a yellow skirt, and a red top that was too short, and boots up to her knees, and pink socks which you couldn’t see because of the boots” …you get the gist. The way in which I imagined everything in this book, from fashion to landscapes was also very vivid and colourful, which made this read quite enjoyable for me. The dark fantasy components were also a bonus for me, since I love the macabre, and am a big fan of dark fantasies.
The pacing was mostly good, and there was always something happening. As I mentioned above, things slowed down for me a little bit when I got about one third into the book, but this slowing down made sense once I finished the book and was able to look back on the story as a whole.
And finally, the characters. As you may have predicted due to my rambling about villains at the beginning of this review, I definitely felt a connection with the main character, Xifeng. I became very invested in Xifeng, and what would happen to her. Even when she was committing monstrosities, I was cheering for her due to either her badassery / just the fact that she was such a strong female character. As the series progresses, I really hope that the perspective doesn’t change from the Evil Queen to Snow White, because we’ve already had so many Snow White re-tellings, and as I said before, I am very invested in Xifeng now! The other characters were also quite believable, and their actions very much reflected what I would imagine life in a village, as well as life in a palace, would be like.
Overall, this was a fun and dark read. I didn’t realize how fitting a read it was for October (the month when I like to read as many spooky books as possible / only spooky books if I can), until I was reading it. The imagery very much reflected the cover, in that it was equal parts lush, and macabre. I also found this book to be unique for me overall, because I had never before read an Asian fantasy, and also never before read an Evil Queen origin story!
– ABOUT THE AUTHOR –
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.
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THANK YOU FOR READING MY REVIEW! HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK? WHAT DID YOU THINK? AND IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET, DO YOU WANT TO, OR NOT? HOW COME? LET ME KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!