‘Forest of a Thousand Lanterns’ by Julie C. Dao is enthralling. I tried and failed not be spelled by it.
Xifeng is destined to be the Empress of Feng Lu and is heavily encouraged to follow this fate by her Guma. Once she sets out on her journey to Feng Lu, Xifeng realises that she will need to work hard to obtain her future. She must accept the monster that lives within her and welcome it’s offer of greatness and magic. However, everything comes at a price. Will Xifeng be able to hold onto the innocence of the village girl she used to be?
Xifeng is a character that I hated liking. She is undeniably evil; she lies, she cheats, she schemes and she kills and then mutilates the bodies by eating their hearts. And yet, I like her. The lack of love in her upbringing is undoubtably to blame as well as the foreshadowing of greatness, and the desire to be more. Her ego was stoked like you would kindle a bonfire. It, like her, grew out of control and with the Serpent God at her side, it will continue to go unchecked. The one person that could have doused this flame, Wei, is now an enemy of hers.
I loved the setting of this book. The language used painted the perfect picture of an East Asian empire to inspire dreams (and many nightmares). This re-telling of Snow White, which focuses heavily on how the Evil Queen came to be is full of flavour that stays in your mouth long after you have read the last word. Knowing the fairytale of Snow White, I can guess at the direction that this story will go in with the sequel, and I eagerly anticipate the Asian spins on it. There were so many parts and scenes in this book that I relished; the hot springs and the water mirror, the apple tree that is heavily guarded by the tengaru and I relished the moments when Xifeng’s scheming played out such as when the Crown Prince called out Lady Sun in front of court.
This book was incredibly woven much like the garments made from the silk worms in Feng Lu. The intricate mix of East Asian culture and the Snow White fairytale is fascinating and utterly alluring. I can imagine that this story was difficult to control, at times it felt like the story had a mind of it’s own. There were a few questions left unanswered by the end and I cannot help but hope they are answered in the next book. What became of Wei? Who was the force out to destroy Xifeng in the Great Forest? Will we see the Serpent God rule? Whatever the answers may be, I cannot wait to read them!
“She would bloom where she was planted and let her roots close around the throats of her enemies.”
I received this in FairyLoot’s October ‘Villainous’ box.
You can get it here