FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS, by Julie C. Dao, Philomel Books, Oct. 10, 2017, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
Have you ever read a book where you really don’t like the main character but end up loving the book anyway? That’s what happened to me when reading Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns opens in a peasant village where 18-year-old Xifeng watches a procession carrying the Emperor’s new concubine to the palace. Though the young bride is lovely, Xifeng knows her own beauty is even greater. Xifeng also know her future lies within the palace walls, though her path will not be so straightforward.
For as long as she can remember, Xifeng’s aunt has dabbled in the dark magic — magic that seems to run through Xifeng’s veins. And it is within Guma’s cards that Xifeng’s majestic future unfolds. Guma is cruel, and Xifeng is desperate to escape her home and fulfill her destiny. So when Wei, the local sword smith begs her to leave with him, she agrees.
Despite Xifeng’s love for Wei, Xifeng knows she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. So Xifeng finds Wei a position in the emperor’s army. Xifeng earns a position as one of Empress Lihua’s ladys-in-waiting and moves into the palace. Xifeng’s new life is not easy, and if she wants to achieve her ultimate goal, she’s going to need help — even if that means embracing the darkness within her.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world that is mysterious, exotic and magical. Author Julie C. Dao’s world building is impressive. She makes you feel as if you are in the rooms of the palace, standing right next to Xifeng. The colors, smells and emotions are beautifully muted and bold at the same time.
Xifeng is a complicated character, and at the beginning, I was rooting for her. By the end of the book, I was not. Xifeng’s weakness lies in her own vanity. It’s not all her fault. Guma makes sure Xifeng knows her beauty is her strength. In the end, though, Xifeng’s beauty corrupts her, leading her down a dangerous and dark path.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a reimagining of the Evil Queen legend from Snow White so it makes sense that Xifeng becomes unlikeable. Even so, I truly enjoyed the book, and I’m excited to see where Dao takes readers in the next installment of this series.
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