Book Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
A dark retelling of the evil queen from Snow White. No one is born evil, but your choices determine your fate. Xifeng finds out the hard way just what it will take to become Empress, and who she has to destroy on her way...
We all know how the story is supposed to go. A girl suffers through a horrific childhood, is saved by the boy/does something heroic to get the boy and they live happily ever after. But what if the girl decided not to choose the boy? What if she was ambitious? What if she didn't 'rise above' her childhood abuse, but used it as an education on how to get revenge on others? What if the hero didn't choose the 'right' path? What if she didn't blush and hide from her beauty but used her beauty as the ultimate weapon?
Xifeng is raised by her aunt and they work hard to get by. Xifeng's aunt is not kind, to put it gently, and she also happens to dabble in the dark arts. She foresees Xifeng becoming an Empress and everything she does for Xifeng is to push her towards that purpose. Even if she doesn't do it in the best way, favouring abuse and punishment.
Xifeng is drawn to pretty things and likes that she is known in the town for her beauty. She has also been in love with Wei since they were children and they have been planning to run away together to escape her aunt and her evil ways. Though Xifeng wonders what will happen to her aunt's premonition that she will be Empress if she does.
Events are set in motion and Xifeng is given the choice to live a happy, loving but hardworking life as Wei's wife. At the same time, she has been given an opportunity to meet the current Empress and possibly gain her favour. This is her chance to begin her rise to power.
Not only does this novel make the main character choose between power and love, but she is also thrown into horrible situations. She is abused and punished for things that are not necessarily her fault. She learns that if she is to ever get ahead, she needs to step on people to do it and harden herself. In doing so, she battles to hold onto her humanity but is slowly losing the battle as the dark magic her aunt introduced her to, begins to get stronger, the more power hungry she becomes.
What I loved about this story was that the main character wasn't blinded by love. Yes, she was in love, but she wanted more for herself. She sees how unfair women and lower class citizens are treated and she wants to never feel that way. She is loyal to an extent and she does care for a tiny few but once you do the wrong thing, you do not get a second chance.
The dark magic was intriguing and the mythical elements with parts of prophecy woven in and stories past through time were done well, with the author not giving everything away and leaving a lot to be unravelled in the next book.
I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series.
Have you read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns? Or do you have any other recommendations for fairytale retelling or even a good villian origin story? I would love to know your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.