Book Title:
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Book Author:
Julie C. Dao
Book Series:
Rise of the Empress, #1
Page Count:
Publishing Date:
October 10th, 2017
Philomel Books
Date Read:
October 30th, 2017
I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review - Thank you!


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.

My Review

Another 5 star review – I’m so excited to be coming across so many amazing books these past few weeks!

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was nothing like I was expecting, and I’m not even entirely sure what that was.  But what I got while reading?  Nothing like I thought this book would be, especially with how hyped up it was.  I have to say, this was one of the best fantasy books that I’ve read in a really long time – it really just swept my off my feet.

If you think the cover for this book is beautiful, just wait until you get to the story that lies within the pages of this gorgeously written novel.  The characters are so perfectly written and each add so much to the story, which is rich in imagination, setting, and has the ability to both captivate and shock.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was so much darker than I had anticipated…in fact, I had to stop reading several times and just think “what the hell did I just read?”  Don’t get me wrong, though – I don’t mean this in a bad way.  I love dark retellings and dark fantasy novels, so this really jumped out at me as being incredibly different, unique, and just downright fun.

“I want to mean something to a great deal of people. I am tired of being no one. As Empress, I would have the right to choose for myself. Guma could not command me, and Wei would not own me.”

Xifeng is a truly beautiful eighteen year old girl who has always been told by her aunt that she was destined for a life in the royal palace, and for as along as she can remember, she believes she is destined to be Empress.  She has watched other girls be selected to become new concubines for the Emperor, and she holds on to her beauty as though it is her one and only ticket to getting into the palace.  She is willing to do whatever it takes to get there, including giving up the only home she has ever known, as well as Wei, the man she wants to fully fall in love with but won’t allow herself to do so because there is no way she can be with him and still fulfill the destiny the cards have shown her.

However, once she leaves home and gets away from the cruel attitude and beatings she receives from her aunt, she makes her way with Wei and several other travelers to the palace, where she attempts to secure both her and Wei a place in the palace and in the army, respectively.  Although she loves Wei and he loves her, she cannot fight what she believes waits for her, so she turns down his proposal of marriage one last time, and gives  up true love to become a lady-in-waiting to the Empress herself, where she will become close with her and hopefully become important to the Emperor.

However, once she gets into the palace, she finds that there are obstacles that she never imagined having to face – including Lady Sun, the Emperor’s favorite concubine, and her instant hatred for Xifeng.  Xifeng is certain that she must do what she must to get Lady Sun out of her way, so that she can become important to the Emperor, even if it means doing something horrible.

“She was a monster, a bride of the darkness, and she rose to face her destiny as though it were the blood-red sunrise of a new day.”

Other obstacles present themselves to Xifeng, including the fact that the current Empress wants to be close to Xifeng, treating her like the daughter she has been trying so desperately to have to over the years. 

As time goes on, Xifeng learns what it is like to live in the palace and try to get everyone under her thumb and rid herself of obstacles holding her back, all while dealing with a snake-like creature that lives inside her, telling her to do evil things in order to rise to the top.  It leads Xifeng to come to the realization that she is definitely not who she once thought she was – and that maybe Wei had almost been right about her allowing Guma’s evil inside her all this time.

There are so many dark parts of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, including dark magic that really makes this book feel more realistic and exciting.  I have to admit that the lengths that the author takes this to to at a few points in this book are almost shocking, but shocking in such a good way.

From the beginning of the book I can’t say that I cared all that much for Xifeng’s character – she was incredibly vain and the way she treated others really grated on my nerves, but in a good way.  I‘m tired of seeing innocent, sweet heroines in novels, and sometimes it’s just so much fun to come across one with a bit of an evil side.  Once I realized that I might not find Xifeng’s character to be the most respectable, I instantly started loving her.

The world building in this book was freaking awesome.  I  got lost in the story, with the descriptions of the palace and the secret tunnels and the hot spring – everything.  Julie C. Dao has such a knack for taking a reader to a brand new place, and I honestly can’t wait to see where she takes us next.

Speaking of, this was such a solid debut novel, not to mention such a great start to a new series.  I read most of this book in a single sitting, because I simply refused to walk away from it (and okay, I may or may not have lost all track of time and the real world around me because I loved this book so much). 

Normally I love fantasy novels, but have a difficult time falling in love with the characters, the setting, or just the drive to sit and finish a book in the genre in a single sitting, but I could not stop reading this.  The setting was beautiful.  The characters all had such amazing personalities that really had the chance to shine through.  And the plot?  It was such a well thought out and and unique read.

I honestly don’t know how I’m going to wait so long for the next book!

Julie Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York, and then was raised amidst the autumn fields and sloping mountains of New England. She went to college to become a doctor, but (go figure) came out ready to pursue her passion of creative writing. She is greatly influenced by the work of Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, Maggie Stiefvater, Jhumpa Lahiri, Neil Gaiman, and Laini Taylor. Julie lives in New England.



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5 stars
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