Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Rise of the Empress #1
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: October 10th, 2017
Source: Netgalley
Date Read: 9/2/17 to 9/7/17
384 pages


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.
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from ARC may or may not be in the published edition.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was a tough book to review, mainly because I was initially so excited about the synopsis, but the closer it got to the release date, the more I felt like I (for some reason) wasn't going to enjoy the book? And I'm not sure why, but I feel like this biased me a bit, causing me to go in it with lower expectations.

Yet when I started reading, I was in for a surprise since I had no idea that this was about an anti-heroine. I remember when the cover reveal happened, I was like, “how is the cover NOT a beautiful scene of a thousand lanterns, you know, like in Rapunzel?” Clearly I was in the wrong, because that image would have not fit with the story at all. But yes, the main character being classified as an anti-heroine is awesome, but she wasn't really the anti-heroine I had in mind.

The story revolves around Xifeng, who’s completely taken advantage of by her aunt (Guma). Her aunt emphasizes the importance of physical beauty and court manners all for a prophecy that may or may not be true. She tries to turn Xifeng into someone she is not, all for the sole possibility that Xifeng might one day be empress. After a falling out with her aunt, Xifeng runs away and escapes with her boyfriend, Wei.

The both of them end up in the Imperial City, where Xifeng finds a way to join the court. Since ladies-in-waiting cannot have outside relationships, she leaves Wei behind. To me, the motivation behind this made no sense. For one, Xifeng loves (or I supposed loved) Wei, but she immediately abandons him in order to fulfill her aunt’s dream. But then, since when did her aunt’s dream become her own dream? There never was any mention of her desperately wanting power or riches. I suppose it could be that she just simply wanted to be better than everyone else, yet her love for Wei seem stronger (even though Wei was an asshole)?

Xifeng also starts forgiving and appreciating everything her aunt did for her. Maybe to the point of even loving her. Even though I kind of get this, her aunt’s actions were so extreme and almost unforgivable. Even without being present, Xifeng’s aunt still found a way to manipulate her thoughts.

The rest of the book focuses on Xifeng’s slow climb up in rank. She serves and puts up with the emperor’s primary concubine, gets in the Empress’ good graces, befriends the eunuch Kang, the one person who truly likes her as a friend. In order to become empress and fulfill her aunt’s dream (?), she needs the emperor to like her. In other words, Xifeng has to get with this man who potentially might be a lot older than her, since she's only about 17 (18?) years old.

The plot definitely picked up during the second half of the book, only because that's where all the killing starts! Well, all the action is. But anyways, I enjoyed that much more than just seeing how she worked her way up in rank.

In the end, I did warm up to Xifeng, even though I had no idea what her motivation was for all of this. I do want to read the next book, as I’m curious to see how magic will play a role in the series.