Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

First of all I just want to apologise for the unplanned hiatus I went on this past weekend. I had a stomach bug and today has been the first day I’ve felt well enough to do anything but sleep.

The winner for my two year blogiversary giveaway will be emailed Wednesday evening, and announced on my blog in my Thursday post. Sorry for the delay but this bug has really knocked it out of me.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Author: Julie C. Dao

Series: Rise of the Empress, #1

Publisher: Philomel Books

Release Date: October 10th 2017


Five Stars

An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress—and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

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 fulfil 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 fuelled 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.

– Blurb courtesy of

My Thoughts On…

…The Plot

“I want to mean something to a great deal of people. I am tired of being no one. As Empress, I would have the right to choose for myself. Guma could not command me, and Wei would not own me.”

Her whole life Xifeng has been told she will one day be the Empress of Feng Lu, but only if she makes certain sacrifices to put her on the correct path. Growing up in a forgotten village Xifeng wants to be more than what she is, an orphaned girl raised by her aunt, forever under the control of either Guma or Wei. She believes she is destined for more and her whole life everything Guma has done has been to help Xifeng one day achieve her destiny.

Before picking up Forest of a Thousand Lanterns I’d heard nothing but great things about it, my hopes were high but Julie C. Dao met them. It would be very easy to see Xifeng as the villain, because in a fairytale the evil Empress who eats people’s hearts would be the villain, but Forest of a Thousand Lanterns shows her character in another light. Though Xifeng’s journey is still filled with darkness you see the way she changes from a poor girl on the edge of the world to someone in a position to become The Evil Queen.

“Beware, Xifeng, of magic that comes too easily. There is a price for everything, as she learned and you, too, will learn. Some magic requires blood. Other magic requires a piece of your own self and eats away at your soul.”

Escaping from her aunts cruelty and travelling to the Imperial City with Wei, the boy she loves, Xifeng takes the first steps towards her destiny. She faces losing Wei to gain a foothold in the palace and faces losing herself to the darkness of the magic she has, but the threat of the Fool Guma saw in the cards, the one who opposes Xifeng’s power, keeps looming in the back of her mind. There are two paths Xifeng could walk, two futures she could have, but it’s up to her which she follows.

I’m not very aware of The Evil Queen myth, but after reading Forest of a Thousand Lanterns I definitely want to check it out. A large part of this story was Xifeng’s development, her moving ever closer to her destiny and to the darkness that surrounds that destiny, but it was an intriguing story full of manipulation and backstabbing mixed with dark magic and intrigue.

…The Characters

“She would bloom where she was planted and let her roots close around the throats of her enemies.”

Xifeng is ruthless and intelligent. She refuses to be cowed and she knows how to manipulate people to see the events she wants come in to play, a skill that serves her well in the Imperial City where everyone is playing games of power. Xifeng seems above the games other people play, she knows she will one day be Empress so she sees herself above everyone else, but the deeper she gets the more she looks over her shoulder. She sees the Fool in everyone who opposes her, and starts heading down a darker path to keep the power she has.

“Isn’t it better to give up a fraction of your freedom to gain tenfold in happiness, even for a short time?”

I loved Xifeng’s journey in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. By the end she was a completely different character to the girl we met at the beginning but her development was so well written and the changes so subtle they felt natural for Xifeng’s character. All her life Xifeng has been told she is destined to become Empress so she accepts it as fact. She knows she will be a good ruler, firm with her people, ruthless with her enemies, and kind to her friends.

The relationship between Xifeng and Wei was almost heartbreaking. For her aunt Wei is a tool, someone Xifeng needs to fulfil her destiny but someone she can never truly be with, and although Xifeng tries she doesn’t seem to truly love Wei, at least not the way he loves her. Wei only wants to make Xifeng happy, but she knows he can only take her so far and there comes a time when she needs to chose between the man who loves her and the path Guma foresaw for her.

“I was Guma’s, and now you want me to be yours. I have my own soul and my own destiny, and I’m tired of belonging to someone else.”

The bond between Xifeng and Guma was interesting to read because even after she has escaped her aunts clutches Guma is still shaping Xifeng’s life and her future. Guma is cruel to Xifeng, never happy with her and abusive most of the time. She is the one who told Xifeng over and over how she would one day be the Empress, and it’s hard to know how much of Xifeng’s journey is simply the path she’s been pushed down by her aunt’s words.

…The Setting

“The beauty of this world is fading all too fast through the cruelty and thoughtlessness of men.”

I loved the story and the character development but I can’t say much about the world building. Don’t get me wrong it was well written; I loved discovering the Imperial Court – the power hierarchy Xifeng finds herself a part of, full of secrets and threats, as she moves ever closer to her destiny of Empress of Feng Su – and I loved the mythology – the magic and Guma have access to and the darkness that surrounds them – but I feel it was overshadowed a little. We got the basic information needed to understand Feng Su, its mythology and politics, but it felt more like surface information something we needed to know to understand the story but not something that was developed in as much detail as the characters or the plot.

Once I reached the end of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns I found myself with hundreds of theories as to where the second book would go, and I desperately need the second book to find out where the story actually goes. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an incredible debut novel from Julie C. Dao, and I can see why so many people have been raving about it.

What did you think of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.

45 thoughts on “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

  1. I couldn’t read to much of your review as I have yet to read this one, but my goodness does this sound like a great read! I’ve seen that cover so many times, but I haven’t read the synopsis until your review. Now that sounds like a dark fantasy I’d enjoy. And i’m so glad that you enjoyed it!! I’m really looking forward to reading this one. The characters sound great and the plot seems really unique. Can’t wait to read this one as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh Azia this was a brilliant read (and you should definitely get around to this book the second you have a chance to). It seems there was a lot of hype for this one, and if you like dark fantasy I think this would be the book for you as well. Hopefully you’ll love it as much as I did. 😀 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ooh I haven’t read this yet, but now I feel like I have to. This sounds brilliant! I absolutely love books that look at villains and I also like the sound of the world building- it sounds really different to other books I’ve read. Definitely want to check this out- fantastic review!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I skimmed this a little because I still have it on my tbr! But, I am so glad to see that you enjoyed this one! I managed to grab a copy during an online Black Friday sale, so I hope I’ll be able to get around to it soon!
    I hope you feel better soon! Stomach bugs are literally the worst :-/ ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh it was a great read Lauren, and I really hope you enjoy it as well. 🙂 Ohh, did you managed to get a good bargain then? (I didn’t really do any book Black Friday bargain shopping, shame on me).
      Thanks, I’m feeling much much better today so I do think I’ve kicked this bug now. 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad you enjoyed FOATL Beth! it is def on my TBR for early 2018 since I cannot resist a Evil Queen re-telling. I have heard of the world building not being as fleshed out as the characters yet I’m still very much intrigued & hope to enjoy it as much as you did. It seems Xifeng shows great character growth throughout & these tend to be my fave type of reads. Great review Beth! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Lilly! 😀 And oh really hope you enjoy it as well then, I haven’t read the original Evil Queen tale but hopefully you’ll think this is a great retelling of it.
      Yeah Xifeng is a great character, and her development made up for the not-as-good world building in this book. I would have liked both but maybe that’ll be something that improves with the second book, who knows?
      Thanks again Lilly. 🙂 ❤


  5. Oh Beth, don’t you worry about this unplanned hiatus! I’m so sorry you’ve been feeling sick, I hope you will feel better soon! Sending you all the love and hugs, get some rest and take care of yourself ❤ ❤
    I am so happy to hear you enjoyed this book so much – I liked it a lot as well, and… I didn't expect to? When I first started, and the more I read, I felt like I wouldn't enjoy it, or just that it wouldn't be my kind of read, yet it surprised me, I kept on reading and actually enjoyed the story and characters.
    Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Marie. 🙂 ❤️ I am definitely feeling much better now, the past weekend was rough to say the least, and while I’m still not 100% I’m slowly getting there. Thanks again. ❤️
      Ohh, in that case I’m even more glad you enjoyed this book when you weren’t expecting too. I got a little swept away by the hype for this one so I kind of did expect to love it, and luckily I did as well! 🙂 Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has some of the best character development I’ve read when it comes to Xifeng’s character. 🙂
      Thanks Marie! 😀 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well at the moment I definitely think the old Empresses daughter is the enemy Xifeng was so paranoid about in this book. I also think that Wei is going to be her protector because the Princess was sent to the monastery when her mother died and after he killed Guma that’s where Wei went as well. I don’t think Xifeng is going to be able to have any children and so eventually the Emperor is going to bring the Princess back to the palace as his heir because all of the old Empresses sons are now dead. Also I definitely think Xifeng will kill the Emperor, or replace him with the Serpent God somehow. Do you have any theories?

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad to see you loved it as well! I fell in love with it as well, and Xifeng was a super interesting character and villain I can’t wait to see the path the sequel will take!
    Great review💕.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nia! 🙂 Oh that’s great to hear as well, this was such an incredible book right? Yes I am going to be very interested in where Xifeng’s character goes in the sequel, I already have a couple of theories but I know whatever Julie C. Dao comes up with is going to be brilliant.
      Thanks! 🙂 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  7. OMG PLEASE REST BETH 💕💕 I completely understand !! ❤️ And I hd to skim read this review because I love diving into this book unprepared 😂 But from the sounds of a few words I caught on screen, I’m happy you liked it 😀 Its my first time reading an Asian Eastern representation in a YA fantasy 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahh don’t worry I’m feeling a little better now Trang. Thanks. 🙂 ❤️
      Ohh, in that case I hope you love this book as much as I did. It’s an incredible story and if it’ll be your first Eastern Asian YA book I don’t think you could pick a better one (I say like I’ve read more than this one myself!) 😀


  8. Wooow, this debut novel sounds amaaaazing. 😮 This whole character development of an Evil Queen seems to have been done perfectly. Love the sound of it all, even if the world-building wasn’t as extensive. I’d actually be down to try this out some day. Fantastic review, Beth. I really hope you get better soon too. Rest well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was, and actually it didn’t feel like a debut either, like that was how strong the story was. 🙂
      Oh the character development was the highlight of this book for me. How Xifeng grew in this book makes me so excited for the next book just to see how her character changes again. If you do decide to pick this one up I hope you enjoy it Lashaan, and thanks so much. 🙂 ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been ill, Beth! I’m glad you’re feeling better now, though ❤
    I'm the same, I didn't know much about the Evil Queen but I'm always up for a retelling so this one was an immediate addition to my TBR. It just sounded soooo good and everyone seemed to love it!
    It's awesome when characters grow throughout their journey/story and become completely different individuals – not in a bad way, just in a natural way. It feels very tedious when you see no progress at all.
    The relationship between Xifeng and Wei sounds like an absolute angsty fest, which I adore. Yes, it breaks my heart but it's just so good!
    I'm so glad this was an amazing read for you and that it made you super excited for the second book. Guess sometimes the hype is indeed right 🙂
    Wonderful review, as always, and I can't wait to try this one myself!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah thanks Sophie, yeah definitely feeling much better now. Still not 100% but getting there for sure. 🙂 ❤️
      Oh there was plenty of hype for this book right? But from what I read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns more than lived up to the hype and I’m definitely not just saying that because I love every retelling I read! XD
      Xifeng had such incredible development throughout this book alone that I can’t wait for the sequel just to see where her character goes in the second book. I have so many theories but I know it’ll be incredible no matter what. Ha, yeah it was definitely an angst fest for so many reasons, but so good at the same time you know?
      Thanks Sophie. Ha, yeah this was one of those books that was better than I thought it would be and I had some pretty high expectations I have to say.
      Thanks so much, and oh I really hope you enjoy this one as well! 🙂 ❤️


      1. So glad to hear it, Beth! ❤
        Hahaha well that's awesome and I'm really looking forward to reading it, even more so now that I know you love it so much ^^
        Yup, totally get it. And that's pretty cool, I love that! Hopefully you'll be surprised by whatever the outcome 🙂
        High expectations met? Man, I soooo need to read it ASAP!! hahaha
        You're very welcome, and thanks ❤ ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yay, and you’ll have to let me know what you think when you’ve finished it Sophie. I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did! 😀
        I’m sure I will, I feel like I’ll likely be surprised wherever this series goes based on where the first book went.
        That’s all right. 🙂 ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Great review Beth! I’m so ready to pick up this book, like you I’ve heard nothing but great things and I love getting a different perspective on characters we classify as “villains.” Plus super excited that this is an East Asian fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Lindsey. 🙂 Yeah from what I’ve read every amazing thing I’d heard about Forest of a Thousand Lanterns before I picked it up was true. It’s an incredible story and if you love both different perspectives on villains and East Asian fantasy stories then I really can’t recommend this one enough. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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