“She would bloom where she was planted and let her roots close around the throats of her enemies.”
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genre: Fantasy, Retellings, Young Adult
Published on October 10th 2017 by Philomel Books
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.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a refreshing take on fairytale retellings with its beautiful East Asian setting and historical world building. It’s a dark fantasy novel wherein magic more like background music rather than the centre of it all. Well, it more like lurked.
The writing is simplistic but Julie C. Dao manages to weave a tale that is both luscious and dark. She does not dawdle too much over descriptions but still consistently creates an atmospheric feel throughout the book. It’s like standing in the middle of the sea and feeling the waves lap against your skin – you’re chilled to the bone, scared, but you love it anyways.
“I’m afraid life will always be a battle for you, but that is the part of you that you must never forget.”
Every character we read of is from Xinfeng’s perspective. Xinfeng’s character development was pretty much jaw dropping. I, honestly, did not see it at first – being so engrossed in the story as I was, but at the end when I looked back and thought over her journey from her small village and now to Empress of Feng Lu. Talk about major goals here.
What I loved about Xinfeng was her absolute resistance to be anyone’s plaything – not Guma’s, not Wei’s, and not even the Emperor’s. She held herself to a high standard even to a point of ruthlessness, and I was totally here for it. Anti heroine or not, that’s something we could all take away from her.
While I should have dislike Xinfeng for her manipulation and crimes – and believe me, I was ready to – with each chapter I began to root for her more and more. I wanted to see her claim the throne. Woops.
That really says something about the author, who in creating this vain and cruel character twists a string around our hearts, tugging at it every so often that we can’t help but pity Xinfeng. I found myself caught in Xinfeng’s charms just as much as the Emperor was.
“For that is the way of the world. Some are given a rope to the moon, and other claw up the sky.”
One drawback about the novel for me was that we are limited to Xinfeng’s views of secondary characters as well. We are left in the dark about their backgrounds, their history, and their motives. The story and overall narrative would be better developed if these characters were brought into focus from time to time. I wanted to know more about them and I also wanted to understand who Xinfeng was from an outsider’s perspective.
And finally, that ending! Let me tell you, I just sat there staring at the page, mouth agape from what I was reading. It was ominous, it was a warning, and it was absolutely magnificent. That last scene really cut deep. I don’t think I will ever get that image out of my mind.
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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.
And now for the yummy cherry to this cake!
Enter the giveaway to win a paperback copy for Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns!
Open only to residents of the Philippines.
Thank you, thank you, Ate Erike from The Nocturnal Fey for hosting this blog tour!You can read her review here.
Congratulations to the lovely Julie C. Dao for this breathtaking novel! I can’t wait to read the next!