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.
Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Series: Rise of the Empress, #1
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: October 10th 2017
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 goodreads.com
My Thoughts On…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.