Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao Book Review

This book seems to have floated around Goodreads, Instagram, and the bookstores to the point where I finally went and picked it up.  In the end, there were too many reasons to pick this up, than there were not to, it just sounded so good!  For one thing, Dao apparently started on Wattpad, or at least that’s what I got when looking at the Acknowledgements when I finished.  Wattpad for me, holds a special place since that is where I’ve put countless pieces of my own work.  If you love writing, it’s a great platform for starting off and connecting with other budding writers, it’s like Goodreads for writers!  It took me a bit to get to reading this book, but once I started it didn’t take long to finish, and though one detail of the plot was unknown when I bought this I still really enjoyed reading this, and am excited to share my thoughts on A Forest of A Thousand Lanterns!!  Without further ado (I say this too often, I am so sorry!), here is my review!

The Tricksy Summary:

When I read the summary I didn’t quite pick up on some of the things that would have given me a clearer picture of what I was in for, so I’m going to put the summary right here, and then give my version since I think it’s still a really great book, just missing the marketing twist it needed, at least on the copy I had (Goodreads is different for some reason).  It feels like I should have figured it out sooner, but hey the summary seemed to leave out something kind of important.

Summary:

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is a beautiful peasant girl.  The stars say she is destined to be Empress of Feng Lu, 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 veins.  And while Xifeng considers her fate, one question, one choice, reigns above all others; Is the price of the throne too much to pay?

My Version:

Xifeng has been told by her Aunt all her life that she was destined for greater things, her beauty unrivaled enough to take her to the throne of Feng Lu, even given her humble origins. Though she lives the life of a peasant, Xifeng has never questioned this, only what the cost may be; the young man who already loves her.  The reimagining of the Evil Queen’s origin story, this Chinese retelling brings a new side to an already well-known character, and presents the struggle between good and evil, as Xifeng must choose not just between the darker and lighter versions of herself , but the path she should take.

 

Looking at the Evil Queen:

The Snow White part is what was missing, or more clearly the Evil Queen bit.  It isn’t too hard to pick up on when the Aunt comes into play with her fortune telling, but that’s more hindsight than me knowing from the get-go.  Not knowing did help in the way that I was continuously rooting for Xifeng in the early on parts of the story, hoping she would choose the correct path, and save not only herself, but all those that could be hurt along her warpath.  Dao though, did an excellent job of bringing a new view of the Evil Queen, even given that I had zero idea where this was heading when I picked this book up.

Xifeng is presented as a possible heroine when she is introduced in the beginning.  Her life with her Aunt hasn’t been the best, putting it mildly, and while she has a love interest, some of the things he says don’t really make you say go for him with 100% confidence.  Essentially, she is looking at going from one cage to another, and which I believe is what steers her in her ultimate direction.  It’s a case of choose the lesser of two evils, she just makes a choice with a lack of information.  That’s most of what makes Xifeng as relatable as she is compared to maybe the Disney version of the Evil Queen.  That one is plagued with the one sided evil villain spiel we get so often in Fairy tales.

Dao makes it clear from the beginning of Xifeng’s journey that this will be a war between her two selves; the good and the bad.  Every choice, even those seeming minor, tug her in one direction, and while many stories rely on the thinking that people can change, the twist here is that once you go down one path, it can’t be undone.  If she chooses to be good, she almost instantly loses her chance at greatness and all her Aunt promised her.  If she choose to go to the Palace, she slowly loses all of the things connecting her to where she came from, which may not sound bad at first, but has its own dark consequences.  This isn’t even going into the real Darkness at the heart of the story, something I’m going to slip around so I don’t spoil this for anyone thinking of reading this book. This whole story seems to fall into the old adage, ‘You reap what you sow,’ every action having a consequence not only for yourself, but for quite a few around you; definitely keeps things interesting!

The World of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

I think what made this story so interesting, even with the twist on the Evil Queen, was the setting of it.  Snow White typically is a story told in a European setting, with someone like Regina from Once Upon a Time as the character.  Instead, Dao gives us a Chinese Fantasy world filled with its own demons, gods, and Destinies that steer one’s life.  Even the name of the book takes from a Chinese concept, and not the European origins.  Add that to the Palace with its beautiful description of lavish luxury, and hidden dangers and you’ve got a world teeming with beauty, riches, and danger!

 

Overall

Overall, I think this was an excellently written book, and did a great job of bringing an otherwise “evil” character into a more relatable role.  Xifeng is the perfect example of a character walking that thin line between good and evil, and though that line begins to disappear midway in the book, Dao makes this part of the plot so much more interesting as the line is crossed, and it then begins to be a question of how far she’ll go.  I’m interested to see where the next book leads, and how we’ll be meeting the grown up version of Snow White later on.

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