Book Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1)

Author: Julie C. Dao

Genre: Young adult fantasy

Format: eBook

Published: By Philomel Books on October 10th, 2017

ISBN13: 9781524738303

Grade: Exceeds expectations

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Book Review)


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.


I had high expectations going into this one because I had read a slew of great Asian-inspired fantasies before this. I’d also seen overall positive reviews for this floating around, so I knew I’d get some quality stuff even though it’s a debut novel. I was also interested to read a book from the evil queen’s perspective because it’s a fresh way of retelling a story rather than re-imagine it with the same protagonist.


Let me just start off by saying that Asian-inspired fantasy will always be appealing if done well. And this book was no exception. It centres around a character who has a darkness inside her that is fighting to take over. It does full justice to the ‘Asian evil queen retelling’ that it is pitched as. The book starts off by introducing the modest girl Xifeng, who lives with her aunt (be warned of abuse) and is seeing the most handsome boy in her village against her aunt’s wishes. She wields her beauty like a weapon and is continuously told that she is destined for greatness because of it. The story takes off when she decides to leave everything behind and carve her own destiny.

There’s a lot to love in this book, especially the character development of Xifeng. She is the kind of character you hate to root for. It reminded me a lot of the Underwoods from House of Cards. The world that Dao weaves is steeped in Asian culture and even has its own form of tarot and fairytales (hence the title). My one main problem with this book was that the court politics did not hold my attention. It was slow and dragged out. I really wanted more action to speed things up a little, but that was conspicuously absent. However, it almost makes up for that by becoming darker and darker with each passing chapter. The ending was a little confusing to me as there were irregular jumps in time, but it has me very excited for the sequel for sure!

I’d recommend this to anyone who is looking for a good anti-heroine story that is deliciously dark and has a lot of political intrigue. If you’re a fan of intense action sequences, then you’ll be disappointed. Flute music would go really well with the setting of this book according to me, or anything soft and mellow, although the characters in this are anything but that. I feel like it would provide a great contrast and heighten the atmosphere. For the food, I would go with noodle soup because I love it so much, but this would be the perfect excuse to pick some Oriental cuisine.


Book: Publisher’s Website | Goodreads

Author: Website | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Tumblr


This was quite a popular book in 2017, so let me know what you thought of it if you’ve read it or if it’s on your radar? Are you excited for its sequel, which will introduce Snow White’s character to the story? What is the best debut novel you read in 2017? Let me know in the comments section below.

14 thoughts on “Book Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

  1. Funny you mention flute music would go well with Forest of A Thousand Lanterns. I have a couple CDs worth of flute instrumentals with nature sounds and Tibetan singing bowls. I’ll have to keep that mind when I finally get around to the book – which I have, signed by Julie herself! She was one of several authors whose book signing I attended during the Boston Book Festival last fall. She spoke as a YA fantasy world-building panel with Libba Bray and two new authors, one of whom I think you reviewed (his book is called Beast Made of Night, or something to that effect…?).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Woah, a signed book is just precious! I hope you get around to it soon. And hopefully the combination of the book and music will work for you as well. 😅
      Yes, it’s Beasts Made of Night. His name is Tochi Onyebuchi. I haven’t read anything by Libba Bray yet although I’ve heard nothing but good things about her works. Have you?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just wrote my own review of this book! I loved it so much – I love nothing more than a great villain. The only thing that held it back from a five star rating was the romantic interest. He was just as bad as her aunt or any other man – I struggled to believe that a woman like Xifeng would be so conflicted about her feelings for him!

    I can’t wait for the next one! I hope this starts a trend of fantasy anti-heroines in YA 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let me check that out soon! I actually wrote the review for this book long after I’d read it, so I missed talking about the love interest. Yes, he was definitely annoying and didn’t care for Xifeng’s wishes or ambitions at all. I would’ve left him too if I were her. I think she only stayed because that was the norm for how men treated women that time and the fact that she was attracted to him physically? I was so happy when she spurned him and went her own way! 😅


  3. Beware Of The Reader

    I read it and I loved it
    What I found really interesting was having a heroine who was a anti heroine. It was like reading about the childhood of Snow White queen. Xifeng was conflicted but she never really had a chance with what lived inside of her. Kudos for Julie C dao for choosing a anti heroine 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve wanted to read this for so long but somehow that’s not happening! 😦 This review makes me want to get my hands on this asap. A dark, evil queen’s perspective and a YA fantasy? Count me in! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is just as awesome as its synopsis sounds. Definitely pick it up! Or maybe you can read it around the time that the next book comes out so the story will be fresh in your mind. Let me know if you use my food/music pairing suggestions. 😅

      Liked by 1 person

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