October 2, 2017

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Grade: B-
Release date: October 10, 2017
An ARC was provided by Read Between the Lynes in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: 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.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Although many fantasy books these days follow the same plot elements, it's always good to find one that surprises me. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns had some of the usual suspects (poor, abused protagonist, a love interest she can't be with, girls jealous of the protagonist's beauty), but it also managed to take a couple turns I didn't expect.
Going into FoaTL, I forgot that it was an origin story for Snow White's Evil Queen, and I didn't notice the parallels until the end (although there are a few earlier on - a mirror and an apple tree). Speaking of the end, I think that was the best part of the book - and not because it meant FoaTL was over.  Anyways, some of the elements drawn from the original worked really well, like the Snow White character herself and Xifeng's desire for hearts (it's creepy and explains so much about the Evil Queen). 
The descriptions were good and the world was fascinating. I found the prose to be a bit dry and the plot a bit slow, but this didn't ruin my reading too much.
My biggest bone to pick is with Xifeng. I know she's an anti-heroine (technically a villain, especially if we're going to get Snow White's version of the story), but I couldn't find it in myself to care for or relate to any of the other characters. If the protagonist isn't going to be someone readers can root for, there need to be fully formed side characters the readers can love. The ambassador was perhaps the most interesting (also I have a feeling his son might be Snow White's prince, but I could be wrong).
If I'm remembering correctly, there were a few s-words. There was a lot of violence and some nudity.

The Verdict: Good, but not great in my opinion. 

Will I be adding this book to my library?: Hmm...probably not.

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