Book Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Overall rating: 3/5
Readability rating: 4/5
Character rating: 4/5
Plot rating: 2/5
Cover rating: 4/5
Would I recommend: If you like Chinese folklore, interesting characters, or fantasy retellings, yes. Otherwise, maybe not.

Goodread Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Retellings

Perfect for: People who like fantasy, remakes of old fairy-tales, asian themes and traditions

Book Synopsis: “Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is a beautiful peasant girl. The stars say she is destined to be Empress of FengLu, but only if she embraces the darkness within her. It’s a choice Xifeng must make…and carefully. Down one path lies obscurity. The other leads to everlasting glory, but not without great sacrifice. If Xifeng is to achieve greatness she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her reigns And while Xiefeng considers her fate, one question, one choice, reigns above all others: Is the price of the throne too much to pay?”

Spoiler-free review:

A story about a young girl finding her way through the political landscape of the royal court. She must choose between love or power, and isn’t the most likable of characters.

The overall story is interesting. The characters are vibrant and multifaceted. The descriptions are also beautiful. But the plot drags on. There is so much filler that doesn’t matter and a constant tug back and forth which within a few chapters, you know which way it’s going. The book also feels more like it’s setting up the next instead of being its own piece.

You know how it ends. You know what it is. And in the end, it almost feels like you could have skipped it and just started the second book.

Spoiler review:

This book is basically the origin story of the evil queen in Snow White but set in China. At least, I believe this is the mystical equivalent of China.

The main character Xifeng has this terrible power. She can use dark, almost blood magic to do her bidding–or at least keep herself beautiful. And boy, is she obsessed with her beauty.

The character set up was good. I genuinely liked Xifeng and Wei in the beginning. She had flaws, jealousy, etc. But then we begin to see the evil queen begin to emerge.

This is definitely not a story where you like the main character. I’m usually more of a fan of stories like that. Xifeng tended to be absurdly jealous of other women and increasingly became paranoid and mildly delusional–might be the dark magic she keeps.

I must admit. I can’t fault her for wanting more. Her aunt was abusive. Her life kind of sucked. And she’d been burdened with this gift. But oi, after a while. I just no longer could stand her.

And I think that’s the point. You find this heroine that you might be able to get alone with, see some part of yourself in, and you watch her spiral as she follows what fate, or what her gift, has determined for her.

Though there are definitely characters you hate more and the whole story walks this fine line of hating the main character and slowly twisting you to agree with her. I had some interesting check ins with myself as I read. You want her to win one moment and the next you’re completely disgusted with her. Honestly, a wonderful villain set up.

But that’s all it is. A villain set up. It might be because I went in knowing that the book was an interpretation of the Snow White villain that makes me feel this way. I knew where the story was ultimately going. There wasn’t really a huge twist at the end for me.

Fantastic descriptors and characters, but I wouldn’t reach for it again. The plot moves too slowly and it feels like a set up for the next. Even the ending feels like an empty cliffhanger like those mid-season finales everyone does on tv now.

I will stick through to read the second book at some point and we’ll see if this book is just a huge background set up for it.

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