Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

33958230by Julie C. Dao
YA Fantasy / Fantasy
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: October 10, 2017
*ARC review

This was one of my most-anticipated releases for this fall and I was lucky enough to snag an advanced reading copy at ALA this summer. This swept me away from the first chapter and I’m so sad this dark dream is over!

Xifeng’s impoverished existence is shadowed by her aunt Guma’s continual predictions for her greatness. Every time she reads Xifeng’s cards, they indicate she is meant to be Empress. Xifeng scoffs at the idea. She is no one, her incredible beauty and cleverness wasted in obscurity. Guma wants her to reject Wei, the man who loves her, because of her destiny, but Xifeng continues to see him–enduring brutal beatings from her aunt as a result. When Wei gives her the chance to run away, Xifeng thinks she is free of Guma’s abuse and can find her own fate. But her journey takes her to the imperial palace, and Xifeng decides to embrace her destiny and enter the palace as a lady-in-waiting. The competitive house of women tests Xifeng’s cunning in ways she didn’t expect, but each choice and gamble brings her closer to her goal. But becoming Empress will mean sacrificing everything she values and the man who loves her to claim the Emperor’s heart.

This is such a dark, addictive character study of a woman who believes her only worth lies in her flawless face and the power it provides. Xifeng is ruthless yet insecure as she feels the pull of destiny unraveling her morality. All she wants is the ability to control her own life, but as a woman in a patriarchal society her options are limited. Becoming Empress symbolizes safety and happiness for her because no one would outrank her.

Based on the stories of the Evil Queen, the fairy tale skeleton is visible beneath layers of fresh material and it provides additional significance to key moments in the best way. Xifeng’s journey feels inevitable and yet it’s clearly happening based on the choices she makes. Despite her darkness I could never bring myself to stop hoping she succeeded.

Although this is marketed as YA fantasy, I think the pacing, style, and themes better fit adult fantasy. Any readers who enjoy fairy tale re-tellings would enjoy this though!

The writing is vibrant, poetic, yet just as direct as its protagonist. Xifeng is unapologetically ambitious and I just wanted this story to last forever. Her rise from lowly peasant to life in the palace reads like a magical, disturbing Jane Austen / royal court drama and I was completely addicted to her bold game of chance and fate. I can’t wait for the sequel!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Agnieszka knows her perfect best friend is going to be the local wizard’s captive apprentice—except when he comes to choose a girl it isn’t Kasia. Incredible world-building, dark magic, excellent twists. This is the only fantasy novel nearly as dark and addictive as Forest that I’ve come across. See my review here.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer – The Queen of Hearts used to be a girl that wanted to open a bakery, but from the day she makes tarts for the King her parents try to push her towards royal ambitions. Cath is convinced she doesn’t want status or riches, but she doesn’t expect a forbidden romance with a joker to change her fate. See my review here.
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  • The Rose Society by Marie Lu – Adelina’s journey to power and descent into darkness becomes more compelling and dangerous in this sequel. The stakes continue to rise and Adelina must continually sacrifice to achieve her dark dreams. See my review here.
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