Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books (Oct 10, 2017)
Series: Rise of the Empress #1
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.
I’d like to thank Penguin Random House International for sending me an ARC of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns for review.
Julie C. Dao’s debut novel, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is one of my most-anticipated books this year because who doesn’t love a fantasy novel set in East Asia? I knew I would love it but I didn’t expect myself to love it this much.
Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how dark and luscious the cover looks? A hibiscus on the cover too, which is the national flower of Malaysia!
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns follows the story of the protagonist, Xifeng who is under the tutelage of her oftentimes abusive and cruel aunt, Guma. As it is written in the stars, Xifeng who is exceptionally beautiful, is destined for greatness. If only she decides to let the darkness which is hidden inside of her, out.
“The beauty of this world is fading all too fast through the cruelty and thoughtlessness of men.”
Determined to pursue her destiny, Xifeng sets off for the Imperial City, in hopes of clawing her way up the ranks of becoming the next Empress, with her childhood sweetheart, Wei.
According to Julie C. Dao, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is somewhat an Asian version of The Other Boleyn Girl and I totally agree with her!
I adored Xifeng because, as far as anti-heroines go, she was definitely a force to be reckoned with. At times, I was horrified with what she did to get things go her way, but I had to applaud her for her drive and determination and cunning.
“She would bloom where she was planted and let her roots close around the throats of her enemies.”
The other characters were a gift to the story because I liked that every one of them had a place in the story and they were important to the progression of the plot. My favourite was Kang, the eunuch who Xifeng befriends during her time in the palace. The on-court drama between Xifeng and the Emperor’s other lovers was a delicious addition to the overall plot and it was quite fun to get to know the Empress and his other concubines and their personal motives and struggles in the palace.
The story invites readers into the glory of the Imperial City, enamour them with the splendour of the palace and keep them engaged with the political intrigue and deceit in the court.
What drew me in was Xifeng’s thirst for power and her constant drive to plot her way into the Emperor’s good graces and capture his heart.
“If my beauty is my greatest weapon, vanity is the shield that protects me.”
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns had a slow, languid pace at the beginning, allowing the readers to fall into the world Julie C. Dao crafted and gradually, as the plot unravels, the pace picks up as well. So I would say that it was a well-paced book and I didn’t have any struggles with keeping up with the story.
Dark, luscious and twisted, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a spectacular fantasy novel set in East Asia that is bursting with beautiful writing and it explores an anti-heroine’s ambition in her rise to power, even if she has to lose herself to the achieve her goals.
“She was a monster, a bride of the darkness, and she rose to face her destiny as though it were the blood-red sunrise of a new day.”
Enthralling and captivating, Julie C. Dao delivers a wonderfully written debut novel which was intense at every turn and laced with vivid descriptions of the world she built in combining essences of East Asian cultures.