Pulling inspiration from East Asian fantasy and The Evil Queen retelling, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao is a dark and gruesome novel that is delightful to read. The book follows a peasant girl named Xifeng, who grows up beautiful and wants to fulfill the prophecy told by her witch aunt Guma.
Dao’s debut novel may be boring to some at the beginning, as Xifeng breaks free from Guma’s abusive hold on her and sets out for the Imperial Palace with her childhood lover, Wei, where the cards foretold her destiny. Though the writing is beautiful, with prose and vivid imagery of the world, but the amount of it in the first half more often than not bogs down the pacing of the story that focuses on the journey to the palace.
However, Dao adds enough darkness to keep the readers interested in the protagonist’s journey–Xifeng is constantly battling internally, deciding whether she should give in to the ominous voices within or fight against them. She is battling external forces as well as she is thrown into court politics quickly and finds those who will prevent her from fulfilling the destiny Guma foretold. The obstacle of others vying for the Emperor’s attention doesn’t stop Xifeng though; she has determination and passion to be the best that she thinks she can be, something many of us can relate to.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is the perfect novel for readers looking for an anti-heroine story who evolves from innocent peasant girl to a powerful evil queen.