Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is the first installment of the Rise of the Empress duology, an East Asian retelling of Snow White that begins with the perspective of the beautiful and cunning Evil Queen.
This one’s for all you villain origin story fans and lovers of dark fairytale retellings. Read on to see how this lush and enchanting book is sure to sate your love of ruthless ambition and ritualistic gore.
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.
Xifeng is an unlikeable, increasingly ruthless, and unapologetically ambitious woman—and I love her for it. Her journey from sympathetic, determined peasant to a worshipper of a blood-thirsty god is riddled with small choices that have huge consequences.
Though I initially rooted for Xifeng’s goodness to win out, I soon felt conflicted because deep down, I knew Xifeng was probably going to give in to her inner darkness—and I wanted to see that happen.
I wanted to see the evil Empress rise, no matter the cost to her soul, or to the world.
Now let’s talk about Dao’s stellar worldbuilding. I totally bought into the beauty and dangers of the Feng Lu empire. The mythology and deities of the world were demanding and enigmatic. The complicated hierarchies and edicts of the Feng Lu elite elevated the stakes, as well as the worth of Xifeng’s prize.
Honestly, all the descriptions in this book are gorgeous and vivid, especially once Xifeng reaches the palace. Everything is illustrated in achingly beautiful detail, whether they be luxurious garments, lip-smacking foods, or the handsome Emperor himself (ahem).
All in all, Dao created a fully immersive, East Asian-inspired world that I will happily visit again. It had all the dangerous political machinations and dark, ungodly powers my little heart desired, resulting in one of the best villain origin stories I’ve ever read.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a stunning debut. I very much look forward to seeing how Evil Queen Xifeng deals with her charismatic nemesis in Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix—the sequel told from the point of view of Jade (a.k.a. Snow White).
You can keep up with Julie C. Dao here:
What should you read next?
If you liked Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, be sure to pick up the sequel, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix! I also think you’ll enjoy The Descendent of the Crane by Joan He and Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim.
3 thoughts on “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns: Green Frog Reviews”
great review! the cover of this book is stunning!
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