This was one of the books that came in a FairyLoot box a while ago, and I had also had an ARC copy of it.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
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 fulfill 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 fueled 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.
This is a difficult rating and review decision, mostly because I loved the writing, world building and ambience of the book. However, I did not actually love the story. And I just couldn’t get to feel for Xifeng. So to be clear, the “low rating” in this case is more of a “this kind of story/MC doesn’t agree with me, rather than a “this is bad writing” because seriously, that is the furthest away from the truth it could get.
Julie does a masterful work at setting the story in East Asia, and I was hooked with the world, however, the shift of Xifeng never really clicked. She felt a bit like she was being mostly manipulated and never actually made choices, her choices were basically motivated by a “prophecy” of “destiny” and when it shows that she can’t have her cake and eat it, she goes completely against herself because of the Serpent God. That I just couldn’t understand, and Wei perfectly describes her in their last meeting.
All in all, I was fond of Shiro, Wei and the ladies in general, and it was really interesting to read it. Sadly, I knew where the story was going and that it would not be a happy story/ending. I am curious to see the next book and see what goes on with Jade, but then, I think I will prefer Jade as MC than Xifeng, we shall see.
I am not an antihero reader in general. It’s not that I dislike good villains, but rather than I like villains that either have a good motive or antiheroes that just are in their way of being. The only books that come to mind is And I Darken and the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson. And of course, this one 🙂