FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS
by Julie C Dao
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.
I love how rich the culture is in this story. It’s not just something sitting in the background, being used as a setting, but something that is incorporated into the story, the plotline, the characters’ lives. The culture knows what it is and shows that throughout the book, unfolding and unraveling into something very beautiful and crisp and alive.
I was very thrown off by the pacing of this novel. One second it’s here and then it’s there and I had no idea how we go to there and the time jumps were such a nuisance and really threw off the pace of the story as well. Suddenly two years passes and you’re just like: “Wait, what? That… doesn’t seem right. Two years of nothing interesting? I mean… why?” I just had some issues with the pacing of this story because it would drag and then BAM action scene with no build up and it would make it feel so out of place.
One thing that I felt was lacking was character development. We get a lot of insight into Xifeng because she’s the POV character, but everyone else honestly felt like they were there just for her. They didn’t feel autonomous like they would have their own lives. It was like they just sat off stage waiting until they were needed for Xifeng’s interaction and that made them feel flat and one-dimensional.
Good vs Evil
I liked the fact that this story deals with the inner darkness within a person and how she willingly gave into it because of the things she wanted, but… in this regard, I’m not sure I actually liked the way it worked. It felt like Xifeng had no say in her inner darkness and I don’t honestly know if she ‘chose’ it or it was just the inner darkness of the creature was too dark for her. I would have liked for it to feel more like a choice.