Historical Fantasy Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (A Rise of The Empress #1)

bought on audio

Synopsis from Goodreads

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.

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To be honest, I am quite disappointed, folks. This book had the potential for greatness, and it squandered it all away.

I am pretty sure, I found Forest of a Thousand Lanterns on one of the lists of Asian culture-inspired fantasy and added it to my wishlist. The idea of a Chinese evil queen in a reimagined Snow White tale having her own story definitely got me hooked, and the book began promising with magical cards prophesying Xifeng's glorious future as an Empress.

The rest was as vague as the author could get away with and still tell the story. Wei, Xifeng's so-called interest lacked substance and, well, his voice. All we saw is a marionette reacting to activate the plot thread needed. The rest of the characters were just as undeveloped: Guma, a one-dimensional old woman until the very end. The Empress is obsessed with having a daughter, the favorite consort as catty and evil as actresses in my favorite historical cdramas. The emperor who barely had 2 meaningful conversations with Xifeng. 

And the plot holes! And the threads brushed under the table! Deus ex machina! I finished listening to it on autopilot because that's how I roll with audiobooks,  but it would have been a DNF with an ebook.

I had trouble understanding Xifeng's character. She was pretty much wallpaper material unless talking to a couple of main characters to promote the plot. Neither evil nor good, just constantly making excuses because her great destiny was foretold. Her "love" for Wei was an afterthought, and actually, not much excited her apart from eating hearts. So, I wouldn't say she was a villain, more weak and vain and ready to be guided into believing whatever was right for her "destiny".

So, here you go. Read at your own peril. Some people enjoyed it, but I wasn't one of them.

* * * 

Если честно, ребята, я разочаровалась здесь. У этой книги был потенциал великого, но она его проквасила.

Я увидела упоминание о Лесе Тысячи Фонариков в одном из книжных блогов, составивших список фэнтези, вдохновлённого азиатской культурой, и как-то мне и обложка и описание Королевы злодейки из Белоснежки запали в душу. И вроде начало здесь было обещающим с волшебными картами, предсказывающими Сифен судьбу императрицы.

Но вот дальше пошла херня какая-то. Любовный интерес Сифен, Вей, существовал как марионетка, говорящая то,что нужно для продвижения сюжета, но своего голоса у него не было. Да и сама Сифен вспоминала его мимоходом по мере сюжета. Её тётка тоже была картонной, и что-то новое мы узнали о ней только под конец. Старая императрица характер потеряла между многочисленными попытками родить дочку. Консорт императора была списана прям с моих любимых китайских домам, такая же тщеславная и истеричная и тупо коварная. 

А дыры в сюжете, а бог из машины! Мама дорогая, ужасть просто! Давайте поговорим о самой главной героине. Сифен - не злодейка, она слаба и тщеславна и готова подчиниться богу-предателю, который в важные моменты берет её под контроль ради воплощения своей великой " судьбы", даже зная, что он ей манипулирует... И я совсем не поняла, что видел в ней император Джин. Он там поговорил с ней пару раз. Она ж сливается с обоями, если не общается с парой людей, её знающих. То есть, кроме её внутреннего диалога нам кормиться нечем.

Короче, читать на свой страх и риск. Знаю, кому-то понравилось, но не мне.


  1. Sad it didn't work out. The premise sounded really cool. Could've been a great story.

  2. Just a really gorgeously morally dark grey complicated portrayal of an iconic "evil" character. I know I'll be re-reading it again as soon as the companion novel comes out just to re-immerse myself in the beautiful twisted world and words Julie Dao gave us!


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