Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Published: By Philomel Books on October 10th, 2017
Grade: Exceeds expectations
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.
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.