Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS (Rise of the Empress #1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
To-be Published: October 10th 2017

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.

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This book…wow. The writing is GORGEOUS and the story is unlike anything I’ve ever read.

 It would be classified as a YA retelling of Snow White with the origin story of the evil queen but this book is so original and so unlike classic and other YA fantasy book that I’d say it deserves its own sub-genre. Reading this book felt like going through every range of emotion in a minute- Dizzying. Horrifying. Elating.

 Forest of A thousand lanterns is a re-imagining of the Evil queen’s story set in an imperial, East-Asian-inspired world. If you’re even thinking about comparing it to other YA retellings, don’t bother. This book goes THERE. Just when you think things are getting too bloody, you have someone cutting out and eating hearts; just when you think it’s too dark, it gets darker. Xifeng is an anti-heroine in its truest form. She will go places you’d never have imagined. Dark, horrifying, and brutal places. Just when you think she couldn’t possibly do any worse, she does much much worse. She’s a complex character that you’ll be rooting for under all circumstances.

 This book starts off with Xifeng as a peasant girl living a miserable life with her aunt whom she has a toxic relationship with. Her aunt is a witch and brought Xifeng up drilling into her that her destiny is to be an empress. And Xifeng is ambitious; so ambitious that she sets off on a long, heart-breaking, and testing journey just to fulfill it. On this journey, she’ll sacrifice a lot and she’ll endure too much, but she goes through it with gritted teeth. Xifeng truly terrified me one too many times and she goes to unspeakable distances to get what she needs but I just can’t help admiring her. A character doesn’t have to be likable to win me over and boy did Xifeng win me over. I loved watching her gain agency and it drove me crazy watching her teeter so close to the dark side but I adore this character. Every time she does the unthinkable I find myself cringing and despairing but cheering at the same time. Xifeng has the good and the bad at war within her and I enjoyed witnessing that. I love that she’s vain and wicked and selfish, I love that she’d stop at nothing to get what she wants. This book was truly a mind-churning journey but it payed off in the end (understatement of the year). That brutal, horrifying ending had me sad and slack-jawed and slow-clapping

The first half was admittedly hard for me to get through because it was slow-going and a bit uneventful, but the second half is truly mind-blowing and more than made up for it with all the palace intrigue, politics, seduction, and evilness. An absolute must-read. Push through till the end even if you’re having doubts, it’s worth it.

Note: I received this ARC as part of Miss Print’s ARC Adoption Program. So, special thanks to Emma!

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