Forest of a Thousand Lanterns⭐⭐⭐⭐ (No pain no gain)

Author: Julie C. Dao
Pages: 363
Series: Rise of the Empress
ISBN: 9781524741686

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.


And we got exactly that. Sometimes a synopsis may promise great adventures and deliver a walk to the mailbox, but this promise delivers.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and ambition. And our main character Xifeng has high ambitions indeed. She grows up in a small poor village with the foretelling that she is destined to be the empress of Feng Lu. Never mind that there’s already an empress alive and well, she does not think that much about it. She is raised by her aunt who has some magic abilities and read Xifengs destiny in her cards. She educates Xifeng in poetry, history and makes sure that her beauty blossoms to its highest potential to get the emperors attention.
Xifeng has a dual nature. She has a kind heart but has been taught never to truly love because that would be a weakness. She also don’t want to hurt innocent people or animals. But to become empress she must travel far and make hard choices to succeed. And that is what makes this book so interesting, she might sway ether way at any given time. In the same circumstances she can be kind and gracious, or vain and indifferent. And what is more alluring, love or a whisper from the devil?
I never knew what she might choose or do. It was a rollercoaster of highs and lows. My reactions varying between; ”WTF!!??” ”You go girl!!”. I also caught myself wanting her to break some hearts and bones. And balls while she was at it.

Well, call the countries what you want, it’s China and Japan. There’s probably some other cultures thrown in there. But in all honesty, I stopped paying attention. There was some interesting magical creatures, dark magic and lore that I did like and left me hungering for more. But the human culture was nothing new, so I got bored with it and focused my mind on the story not caring what buildings and clothing looked like. Sorry.

Xifeng: How far will you go and what will one sacrifice to achieve ones goal. She’s prepared to do what it takes except for sacrifice something that she likes to have. She’s selfish and vein and knows it deep down. Though she has a small problem with it and denies that part of her and tells herself that she’s doing these things for others too. I don’t have a problem with her though. I kinda liked that a main character for once consciously did everything for her own fate and screw the rest.
Wei: Boneheaded caveman who only sees what he wants to and won’t accept that things are not as he wants them to be. He pissed me off all the time. He is supposed to be a love interest who truly loves Xifeng. Bullcrap I say!

I’m not going to write about the other characters in specifics this time because I feel that it may spoil the journey of the book in a way. They show up, they may disappear and they may stay. I will go as far as to say that this book is a light version of Song of Ice and Fire in the way it treats its characters. And that is not the only likeness I found. One character feels awfully familiar, but sober and less angry.
The characters are well written and all have distinct personalities and complex natures to some extent. Even the lesser players in the story. They were all a joy to get to know, even the ones who I would curse with a gift of a new paper-cut every hour for eternity.

I love a good retelling, and this one was excellent! But at the same time, knowing it was a retelling I was distracted with playing ”where’s Waldo” with the coming Snow White. And it took something away from the story. You keep comparing and expecting certain events to occur. And I personally could enjoy a book more if I did not know that it was a retelling. (As was the case with ACOTAR for me. I had no idea but was not surprised when I found out. I saw the likenesses)
Thinking back I have some issues with the book. But I enjoyed the story so much that I feel that it does not matter that the world was not extremely innovating or that I got distracted at times. I loved following Xifeng on this journey! And the characters was so complex and well written!! This is definitely a book that I will read again.
I give the book 4 stars and hopes that publishers in the future will stop using the retelling label as a key selling point with these kinds of them. Let me be surprised next time!

Julie C. Dao // Goodreads review // Instagram

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