Fantasy, Sci Fi/Fantasy

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao

Xifeng was born a poor peasant, but the cards (that her cruel aunt, Guma, reads) tells her that she is destined to be Empress of Feng Lu. Now how to make it happen?

Entangled with Wei, a handsome young man from her village, since they were no more than children, but her destiny has always held her back from giving herself to him fully. When she finally has had enough of her life with Guma though, she accepts his proposition to escape their poor village and head to the Imperial city. Once there she can gain access to court and work her way, by whatever means necessary, to where she belongs.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an east Asian take on the story of Snow White – more specifically the story before Snow White, the story of what made the evil Queen. Xifeng starts off as a typical fantasy heroine – a poor peasant girl who is special, destined for greatness. But even when the light inside her is managing to beat back the darkness she has moments that make the reader sour on her – beauty and vanity is a core part of her and there is woman-on-woman bashing (because every woman she runs across just has to be jealous of her beauty). However, this is the point, she’s going to become the evil Queen, who tries to murder her step-daughter for being too beautiful. Once you get over wanting to like Xifeng, there is something deliciously fun about knowing she’s going to step all over whoever is in her way in order to become Empress – and you know she’s going to get away with it (at least for now).

A richly developed world, full of backstabbing (and some actual stabbing), broken hearts, betrayal, and strength (both brute and quiet) will have readers eager to see where the sequel takes the story of Snow White.


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