"A richly developed fantasy world . . . Julie C. Dao is a talent to watch."—Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Young Elites
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.
Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with both breathtaking pain and beauty, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns possesses all the hallmarks of masterful fantasy: dazzling magic, heartbreaking romance, and a world that hangs in the balance. Fans of Heartless, Stealing Snow, and Red Queen will devour this stunning debut.
Praise for Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
A Junior Library Guild Selection
"A richly developed fantasy world coupled with an ambitious anti-heroine of complex agency, this story shines and surprises at every turn. Julie C. Dao is a talent to watch."—Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Young Elites
★ "A masterful reimagining of the early life of Snow White’s Evil Queen."—Booklist, starred review
★ "Lushly written . . . tantalizing reading."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Rich in detail and full of gore and blood, this dark novel will satisfy ‘Game of Thrones’ fans."—School Library Journal
“A stunning reimagining of the Evil Queen. Filled with treacherous courtesans, dark magic, terrible choices, and bloody hearts, Julie Dao’s exquisite take on this classic villain rises far above the average retelling.”—Stephanie Garber, New York Times bestselling author of Caraval
“Magnetic, seductive, and alluring, Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a lush, captivating read about desire and the lengths to which we will go to find our true destiny.”—S. Jae-Jones, New York Times bestselling author of Wintersong
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The procession stretched down the cobblestone road, a serpent made of men in red and gold, the Emperor’s colors. They marched forward, ignoring the slack-jawed townspeople gaping at the banner they carried: a dragon with a forest curled within its talon, the emblem of the royal house. A palanquin draped in scarlet silk appeared, resting on the shoulders of four men. People craned their necks to see the occupant, but caught only a tantalizing glimpse through the swaying curtain: blood-red lips, golden blossoms in shining hair, and robes that cost more than any of them would see in a lifetime.
“Another day, another concubine.” A bent old woman bared the three teeth she had left. “It seems he has a taste for pretty village girls. May blessings rain down upon him,” she added hastily, in case a soldier heard her criticize their sovereign.
“He must not discriminate by class when it comes to beauty,” another woman agreed. She was not as old as the first, but she was just as bent. Most of her weight rested on her good leg, while the other hung crookedly, like a dead branch. Her shrewd gaze moved from the procession to the girl beside her.
She was not the only one looking at this girl. More than one soldier admired her as he marched by.
The girl wore tattered, faded clothing like everyone else. But she had a face like a painting: a perfect oval, with lotus lips blooming beneath a sweet stem of a nose. She appeared docile, virginal, but the eyes she lifted told a different story with their sparkle of intelligence. They were the kind of eyes that flashed from the shadows of a darkened room.
“He must not discriminate,” the woman said again. “What do you say to that, Xifeng?”
“I wish the Emperor joy, Guma. She must be special indeed if he chose her for his own,” the girl said respectfully, even as her coal-black eyes burned.
At the palace, slaves would bathe the young concubine’s feet in orange flower water. Every inch of her would smell like jasmine, and when the Emperor put his lips on her skin, he would know nothing of her hardship and poverty—the same hardship and poverty that coated Xifeng like sweat.
“She is no more special than you.” There was no love in Guma’s statement, just fact. But they were mere words, ones she had said for years. She shuffled closer and hooked a claw-like hand around Xifeng’s elbow. “Come. It may be silks and riches for her, but it’s back to the needles for us. Tonight, we will read the cards again,” she added as gently as she ever could.
Xifeng knew these rare glimpses of kindness from her aunt could be swept away the next minute by a dark mood. So she inclined her head in a show of grateful obedience, picking up the basket containing their meager purchases, and the pair trudged back home.
They lived a short distance from the center of town—rather a grand term for a muddy square. There, ragged farmers and crones with more brains than teeth hawked wares that had seen better days: maggoty vegetables, cracked pottery, dull knives, and cheap hemp fabric.
It had rained the night before, a torrential downpour of early spring that would be good for the rice and crops but had turned all else into a pungent soup of mud and debris. A few scrawny chickens ran by, a trail of droppings streaking behind them, as a woman emerged from a soggy cottage to scream at her brats.
Some days, Xifeng thought she would gladly watch this town burn. She ached to leave it all behind and never look back. To think she was trapped here forever, while the Imperial palanquin carried that other girl straight into the Emperor’s swan-feathered bed.
She felt Guma’s sharp eyes on her and took care to keep her face neutral. To show discontent was to rebuke her aunt for all the sacrifices she had made. After all, Guma had not been required to raise the bastard daughter of a sister who had shamed their family and killed herself. And despite being eighteen, Xifeng knew any small sign of displeasure would earn her a dozen stripes with the bamboo cane. She flinched inwardly, thinking of the scars on her back that had just begun to heal.
And then there he was, walking toward them, as though her thoughts had conjured him.
Wei. The reason for those scars.
His proud, shaven head was turned away, watching the innkeeper across the street argue with a customer. His features were sharper in profile, brutal and beautiful, and the other men gave him a wide berth as he cut through the crowd. With his shoulders like a bull, bare arms that rippled with muscle, and ferocious storm of a gaze, he was the living embodiment of war. But those large, capable hands, which now carried a stack of rusted swords to be repaired—Xifeng knew how gentle they could be. She remembered how they had felt on her skin and struggled not to shiver at the memory of it, because Guma’s clever eyes were still watching to see her reaction.
“What would you like for supper?” Xifeng kept her voice steady, as though she didn’t know the man approaching them at all.
Wei faced forward. He had noticed them now; her skin prickled with his awareness. She wondered if he would say something. He had an idea that because he was physically strong and Guma weak, he could overpower her and free Xifeng from her control forever. But there were different kinds of strength, and provoking Guma to release hers was the last thing they would want.
She patted her aunt’s tense arm as though there were no one else dearer to her in the world. “I could make a soup of these prawns. Or I could fry the turnips, if you prefer.”
And then the moment passed. Wei walked by without a word. Xifeng reserved her sigh of relief to release later when she was in the kitchen, alone.
“Do the prawns,” Guma said calmly. “They’re already beginning to smell.”
A few steps more, and they arrived home.
Xifeng’s grandparents had once owned the entire building with its handsome dark oak façade and imposing doors carved with a phoenix rising. They had been successful tailors before the war, and Guma and her younger sister, Mingzhu, had grown up here. Xifeng found it more difficult to imagine Guma as a child than to picture the splendor that had long worn off these faded walls.
Despite the poor condition of the place, they had managed to rent the downstairs to a couple as a teahouse. Guma and Xifeng lived on the drafty upper floors with Ning, the girl they had hired to help them sew and embroider. She was waiting for them by the door, and though she was fifteen and scrawny, the glance she gave Wei’s hard, retreating back was that of a woman. It was not the first time Xifeng had caught her gawking at him, but she had never seen the girl’s longing so raw and sharp. She could practically feel the waves of lust radiating off her.
Xifeng felt something growl deep inside.
But before she could do or say anything, Guma released her arm and cracked a vicious slap across Ning’s face. “What are you doing there? I don’t pay you to stand idling and ogling,” she snapped as the girl touched her reddened cheek and sniffled. “Get back upstairs.”
Ning turned wet eyes to Xifeng before obeying, and though a note of pity rose up inside Xifeng, she remained silent. She knew that slap had been meant for her, but she had hidden her emotions so well that Guma had to vent her violence on the hired girl, like a teapot with built-up steam. She watched Ning slouch upstairs, both feeling sorry for her and thinking she deserved it if she thought she could steal Wei for herself.
But Xifeng’s relief was short-lived. Guma grasped her arm again, pinching hard enough to leave a bruise. Her face had begun to wrinkle like a rotting pear, making her appear much older than her forty years. “Don’t think I don’t know you want the same thing from him,” she hissed, her sour breath filling Xifeng’s nostrils. “Don’t think I don’t know you still sneak around, no matter how many times I pull out that cane.”
Xifeng kept her eyes down, biting the inside of her cheek at the pain of Guma’s fingernails, hatred boiling within her. No matter how hard she worked and how obediently she behaved, she received only scorn and beatings in return.
“He’s not good enough for you, do you understand? You deserve better.” And though one hand still gripped Xifeng’s arm, the other gently stroked her cheek.
That simple gesture, one a mother might make toward her daughter, dissolved the hatred in an instant. Xifeng leaned into her touch, forgetting the pain.
“Now help me upstairs, child.”
The upper level had always seemed an endless labyrinth to Xifeng, even now as a grown woman. Once, these chambers had been full of purpose. Dried flowers still littered the floor of one room, where years ago they had hung from the rafters above vats of boiling water, ready to be made into fabric dyes. Across the hall, wisps of thread still clung to abandoned looms, unwilling to relinquish the past. The large room at the back had housed an army of hired girls, whose quick, clever hands had embroidered endless lengths of silk for noblewomen.
But those days were long gone. Nowadays, they used only four rooms: two for sleeping, one for cooking, and one for eating and sewing. She led Guma to a stool in this last room, where Ning sulked and hemmed a square of cotton with blue-dyed thread.
“Mind your stitches,” Xifeng told her, earning a baleful glare.
Ning had come from one of the coastal villages, reeking of fish and poverty. Guma had hired her when she saw what she could do with a needle. Since then, the girl had become Xifeng’s shadow, the irritating younger sister she’d never had. Ning followed her, asking questions and imitating her movements, the way she spoke, and the style in which she arranged her hair. But there was a sense of competition, too, and Xifeng suspected the girl’s interests had shifted from trying to impress Guma to making Wei look at her the way he looked at Xifeng.
Ning darted a frightened glance at her, and Xifeng realized she had been staring. She turned away, draping a length of pale pink silk over Guma’s lap.
For weeks, they had been embroidering plum blossoms all over the fabric. Her aunt had sneered at the choice of color and design, which belied the humble origins of the lady who had commissioned the tunic for a banquet. Truly well-bred women preferred silks dyed darker colors, which cost more. But Xifeng thought wistfully that she would wear the cheapest of silks if it meant she too could enjoy herself at some festival.
“Go prepare the meal, and don’t be long about it,” Guma told her crossly. “We need to finish this in two days, and you’ve wasted too much time gawking at the new concubine.”
Xifeng held her tongue at this injustice. It was Guma who had wanted to wait for the procession on this chilly spring morning, so she could compare her niece with the new addition to the Imperial harem.
“Was she beautiful?” Ning asked timidly.
“Of course,” Guma snapped, though she hadn’t seen any more of the woman than anyone else.
“Do you think the Emperor would choose an ugly girl like you to bear his children?”
Xifeng turned to hide her smile and carried the basket down the hall. Guma was right. Wei would never look at such a plain, moon-faced girl. Not when he had her.
But Ning didn’t choose to look the way she does, Xifeng thought, with another twinge of pity. Any more than I did. She put a pot of water on to boil, gazing at her own reflection.
She had seen that face every day for eighteen years in the washbasin. She never needed to open her mouth. She never needed to do much. All it took was stepping out with that face, and she would get a wink from the innkeeper, the best cut of meat from the butcher, and a pretty bead or two from the tradesmen in the square. One of them had even given her a pomegranate once. Wei had been furious when she told him, and would have made her throw it away if she hadn’t already brought it home to Guma.
“I don’t ask for these things,” she had protested, comparing it to his natural-born talent for metalworking. The town craftsman had hired him because he could shape a beautiful sword from the ugliest bronze. But still, Wei had been gruff and grim and unwilling to understand.
Perhaps the Emperor’s new concubine had been born with a face like hers. Lovelier, even, since it had won her a home in the Imperial Palace.
The water began to boil, and Xifeng turned away bitterly to season the prawns. She sliced the last of the ginger and scallions, hoping their client would be satisfied with the pink silk and pay immediately. They couldn’t afford more vegetables until then, and eating plain rice—something they’d had to do many times in the past—always put Guma in a fearsome temper.
Xifeng carried the meal into the front room. They ate in peace, interrupted only once by Guma criticizing how she had cooked the prawns, and then worked until the sun went down.
She recited poetry as she worked, something Guma always required her to do. Her aunt had drummed into her head that poetry, calligraphy, and music marked a well-born lady, and so she had endured many a sleepless night to study. She would have resented it, had it not proven that Guma wanted and expected a better life for her.
The moon shines down upon us, beloved
The water a vast and eternal mirror
A voice whispers from every tender branch
Turn your face from the world’s apple-blossom fragility
And embrace this boundless night
Guma paused in the midst of stitching a plum blossom petal, her nostrils flaring. “Where did you learn that?” she demanded.
“From one of your volumes.” Xifeng gestured to a dusty stack of faded texts in the corner, the meager remnants of her mother and aunt’s school days. She often marveled at the wealth her grandparents had possessed, to have afforded such things for mere daughters.
“Show it to me.”
The tone of her aunt’s voice made her put down the needle immediately. Xifeng located the volume, one thinner and newer than the rest, and presented it to the older woman. Guma examined it, lips thinning as she ran her fingers over the unembellished back and turned it over to look at the title: Poems of Love and Devotion.
She hastily shoved the book back at Xifeng, as though it had burned her fingers. “Ning, isn’t it time you went to bed?”
Xifeng kept looking at her aunt as the girl put away her work and lit the red tallow candles. She hadn’t realized the sun had set until she felt the candlelight relieve her strained eyes. As soon as Ning was gone, she asked, “Did the poem remind you of something, Guma?”
Her aunt spoke often about the past—mostly to complain about the riches she had then that she didn’t have now—but rarely mentioned her sister. All Xifeng knew of her mother was what she had been told only once: that Mingzhu had been beautiful and brainless and had gotten herself pregnant and abandoned by a nobleman. The pinched expression on Guma’s face suggested she was thinking of her now, but when she spoke, it had nothing to do with her.
“I know that poem. It was . . . told to me many years ago.” She licked her dry lips, her gaze flickering from the text to her niece with something like terror.
Xifeng had seen that fear twice in her life: once, when Guma had hobbled home in a frenzy to shut all of the doors and windows without explanation, and again after she had woken from a nightmare of spiraling black snakes.
There was a long silence.
“It’s time to read the cards,” Guma said.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lush. Dark. Powerful. Full of stunning writing and complex characters, this book is everything I hoped it would be and so much more. You. Need. This.
After waiting for this book for what felt like an eternity, I finally read it and holy crap—I'm in love. I mean, it's about The Evil Queen's rise to power BUT it's also set in a fantasy Chinese-inspired world. If that doesn't have you rushing to add it to your TBR, I don't know what will. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is the tale of how the Evil Queen (a.k.a. Xifeng) gets her throne. It feels as if the Evil Queen herself has been dying to get her story told, and she finally is able to accomplish this with the help of Julie C. Dao. Xifeng is an incredible character. Is she evil? Yes. Is she still fabulous? So much so, that I have heart eyes for days. While her morals are questionable, her drive and her passion are ravishing. She doesn't let anything stand in her way, and I found that to be incredibly inspiring. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns well exceeded all of my expectations. It was dark, enchanting, and utterly alluring. This book will satisfy your need for villain stories, and will quickly have you begging Julie Dao for more. Full review on Brittany's Book Rambles!
Fores of a Thousand Lanterns is a beautifully written story about an ambitious girl who gets in too deep when she plays with dark forces. Ever since she was a kid, Xifeng was told by her guardian and aunt, Guma, that she was destined to be the Empress, and so was raised accordingly. The harsh treatment and abusive childhood made her want to finally be in a position she isn't powerless anymore, and Xifeng finally sets out to meet her destiny when she has had enough. Her path to the throne is lined with her clever manipulations, her subtle subterfuge, as well as the magic running in her veins that helps keep her beauty. Xifeng's story is that of a villian, sure, but also a relatable one. For her, she is the master of her own story, and to meet her destiny, she will take whatever steps are necessary. She grows close to the old Empress (whose second husband is the current Empress) as a means of protection from the concubine who seeks to bully her; eventually, though, she has to struggle between the daughterly feelings she has towards the Empress and her ambition. Also, Xifeng is convinced that there is a 'Fool' who is supposed to obstruct her path, leading her to paranoia over this unknown entity that will be her doom. XIfeng's tale is a tragic one, sure, and a lot of it is about how she was brought up, but the story only justifies, not excuses her actions - she still choses to do those terrible things, because she wants glory and power over a happy but simple life. Her deeds are to reach a place where she isn't under the power of someone else, and the surest way for that is for her to be Empress. The magic in this world is not a prominent part, but it does drive the plot. While Xifeng has power in her veins, she seeks to get a power independent from that of a god or a king. The characters and their relationships was one thing that was well done in the book, though it does suffer from the tragic trope of 'women being jealous of other women for no good reason'. The pace is probably where this book suffers, too; it feels long-drawn and not that impactful when it came to certain events. On the whole, though, I loved the author's take on the Evil Queen legend, bringing in subtle allusions to the original story while also keeping the Asian setting. Additionally, it has a wonderful narrator who brings the story alive.
I adored this story, though I wish I would have realized it was an evil queen from Snow White origin story. I would have been rooting for her wickedness, not for her to do better. Regardless, it was a fantastic read and I enjoyed it so much!
Recommend for readers who like anti-hero stories
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao is the first book in East Asian inspired fantasy retelling of the Evil Queen. It follows Xifeng as she goes from being a poor village girl to the Empress' lady in waiting and has her sights set on being the next Empress. With dark magic flowing through her veins, she must combat between the good and evil inside her. But is it too much for her to handle? HOLY MOLY BOOKWORMS. If you haven't read this one yet, then I don't know what you are waiting for. This was hands down one of my favorite reads of 2017! I loved pretty much everything about it. I can barely contain my excitement as I write this. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was lustrous and visually appealing to my imagination. Dao takes you on a magical adventure filled with beauty, power, love, and deceit. The way her writing ebbed and flowed made it enjoyable to read and easy to follow. It was laced with vivid descriptions, beautiful atmospheric scenery, and swoon-worthy dialogues. My favorite character was hands down Xifeng. It's been a while since I last read an anti-hero type character like her. I was rooting for her to do the right thing, but also secretly enjoying her evil side. You could tell it was always a battle inside her when it came to unleashing her dark magic. She was equal bits kind and cruel, beautiful and hideous, good and evil. Her character growth was astounding. The plot was also very fast moving as well. You would think a journey from being a poor village girl to the imperial palace to becoming a handmaiden, and trying to take the throne all in one book would be too much to handle, but Dao does so without taking away from character development and world building. I thought everything was done so precisely. I know there is so much more to come in the sequel, especially after that ending, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. If you haven't picked up Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, then I highly recommend you do so. You won't be disappointed.
This book…wow. The writing is GORGEOUS and the story is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It would be classified as a YA retelling of Snow White with the origin story of the evil queen but this book is so original and so unlike the classic and other YA fantasy books that I’d say it deserves its own sub-genre. Reading this book felt like going through every range of emotion in a minute- Dizzying. Horrifying. Elating. Forest of A thousand lanterns is a re-imagining of the Evil queen’s story set in an imperial, Chinese-inspired world. If you’re even thinking about comparing it to other YA retellings, don’t bother. This book goes THERE. Just when you think things are getting too bloody, you have someone cutting out and eating hearts; just when you think it’s too dark, it gets darker. Xifeng is an anti-heroine in its truest form. She will go places you’d never have imagined. Dark, horrifying, and brutal places. Just when you think she couldn’t possibly do any worse, she does much much worse. She’s a complex character that you’ll be rooting for under all circumstances. This book starts off with Xifeng as a peasant girl living a miserable life with her aunt whom she has a toxic relationship with. Her aunt is a witch and brought Xifeng up drilling into her that her destiny is to be an empress. And Xifeng is ambitious; so ambitious that she sets off on a long, heart-breaking, and testing journey just to fulfill it. On this journey, she’ll sacrifice a lot and she’ll endure too much, but she goes through it with gritted teeth. Xifeng truly terrified me one too many times and she goes to unspeakable distances to get what she needs but I just can’t help admiring her. A character doesn’t have to be likable to win me over and boy did Xifeng win me over. I loved watching her gain agency and it drove me crazy watching her teeter so close to the dark side but I adore this character. Every time she does the unthinkable I find myself cringing and despairing but cheering at the same time. Xifeng has the good and the bad at war within her and I enjoyed witnessing that. I love that she’s vain and wicked and selfish but also loyal and caring. I love that she’d stop at nothing to get what she wants. This book was truly a mind-churning journey but it payed off in the end (understatement of the year). That brutal, horrifying ending had me sad and slack-jawed and slow-clapping The first half was admittedly hard for me to get through because it was slow-going and a bit uneventful, but the second half is truly mind-blowing and more than made up for it with all the palace intrigue, politics, seduction, and evilness. An absolute must-read. Push through till the end even if you’re having doubts, it’s worth it. Note: I received this ARC as part of Miss Print’s ARC Adoption Program. So, special thanks to Emma! TRIGGER WARNINGS: • Violence and gore. • Whipping and beatings
This turned out to be a treat! It is very slow to start, I would say it picked up around the 30% mark or so, so you have to stick with it. It’s worth it. Xifeng is a great antiheroine. Sometimes I found myself liking her and rationalizing with her in spite of myself. There really isn’t a whole lot of YA antihero stories out there, so I’m glad I read this. All of the side characters are great. I really loved Jun, I don’t know what it is about him but he was just perfect to me. I’m excited to see where this story goes in the sequel, I really have no idea what to expect
Thanks to NetGalley and Philomel Books for the opportunity to read and review Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao. Xifeng lives with and under the control of her Aunt Guma in a poverty-stricken kingdom where the king forces young women to be his concubines. Guma uses magic that makes others suspicious and cautious. She’s reading cards for Xifeng’s future and the cards state that Xifeng is going to be Empress someday. Xifeng and her boyfriend Wei leave the village for their freedom and their futures. They each discover something new about themselves and each other. This debut novel contains unique elements. The protagonist also seems to be the antagonist and as the story unfolds the theme seems to change. I’m fascinated with Xifeng and her reasoning with all of her actions as well as the beautiful relationship she has with Wei. An impressive, entertaining first novel by Julie C. Dao! 5 stars! *I received a complimentary copy of this book for voluntary consideration.
3.5 stars I was 100000% on board with this story as soon as I saw that it was an evil queen reimagining. I really liked Xifeng. She’s determined and calculating and I enjoyed being in her head while she strategized. There were a few other characters who were intriguing, but I couldn’t be bothered to get involved with them as I fully expected everyone to die. Plot wise, it took a bit of time to really get started. I wasn’t fully captivated until more than halfway through it and I only continued because I saw several other reviews saying it got better. The imagery was gorgeous and I was definitely interested in the world building. Overall, it was a fantastic reimagining and I loved how the story unfolded. I was expecting a bit more from the ending, but somehow it was still satisfying. I am quite eager to see what happens next. **Huge thanks to Philomel for providing the arc free of charge**
First off, this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. I honestly don’t recall reading a story through the eyes of an anti-heroine. But gosh darn it, I enjoyed every page of this book. Dao’s writing is impressive and captivating. I couldn’t put this book down if I wanted to! Xifeng’s journey was dark and twisted and I LOVED it! I never thought I would be rooting for someone to partake in nefarious activities to achieve power. Dao did not disappoint in crafting this beautifully vivid world with complex characters, fascinating, culture, and flawless plot. That ending couldn’t have been more perfect. I didn’t want the story to end and after I turned the last page, I just wanted more of this richly imagined book that is PERFECTION. This book for sure is in my top 10 books of 2017.
With its richly imagined world and wonderfully diabolic antihero, FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is a haunting debut that readers won't soon forget. This novel is unlike anything I've ever read before and is certainly one of my favorite books I've read this year. I adore a complex and unreliable main character, and Xifeng beautifully embodies those characteristics. Dao did such a wonderful job of showing Xifeng's backstory, motivations, and human characteristics as well as the darkness lurking inside her. Xifeng might not always be a likable character, but she is an unfailingly fascinating one. Being inside her mind was such a darkly captivating experience, and I am just itching to find out what happens next in her story. The world-building in this novel is quite frankly stunning. From the richly imagined legends and mythology to the lush setting, the world of a FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is entirely immersive and an absolute joy to read about. The plot of the story itself is very character-driven. This is truly a story of Xifeng's transformation from a naive and driven girl to a darkly powerful young woman. While there are several jaw-dropping and intense moments in the story, it isn't as action-packed as many YA fantasy novels. Instead we get focus more on the political maneuverings and character/world development. While that does mean the plot moves more slowly, Dao's writing is so decadent and provocative, I was absolutely addicted to it. There are some beautiful and heart-pounding romance scenes in this novel. These make for some lovely scenes in the story, without overpowering the overall plot. They are a part of Xifeng's character arc, but they are not the main motivation behind it, and I really appreciated that. Though Xifeng's motivations were far from pure, it was wonderful to see a female protagonist pursuing her dreams and ambitions and prioritizing those above romance. I was truly blown away by this story and by Xifeng herself. I would highly recommend this to any reader. This is such a unique story, and it truly stands out amongst the many YA fantasy novels I've read this year. I will most eagerly be anticipating the next book in the series.
ALL THE STARS!!! This swept me away from the first chapter and I'm so sad this dark dream is over! 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. She is the Slytherin princess I never knew I needed! 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 recommend this enough--it's probably the best dark fairy tale I've ever read!
I really really liked FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS. I stayed up until about 3AM finishing it! If you like YA fantasy, I think you'll enjoy it—especially if you like rooting for the villain! It's a great reimagining of the Evil Queen from Snow White.