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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Release & Review - Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1) by Julie C. Dao

Image and blurb from Goodreads

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
(Rise of the Empress #1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Release DateOctober 10th, 2017
Age Category/ Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Retelling
Publisher: Philomel Books
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.

3 “East Asian Evil Queen” Stars

I’ve had my eyes on this book for a while, which means I was eager to finally start and ready to love this story. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

I went into this book knowing it was a retelling of The Evil Queen in a East Asian-inspired fantasy world, so I was expecting to have mixed feelings about the main character—wanting to murder her and loving her at the same time. That’s pretty much how I go about villains I love.

The problem is that I never got to fall in love with Xifeng.

Last year I read Heartless by Marissa Meyer, and I absolutely loved how I went from loving Catherine to watching her become the Queen of Hearts. The thing is, I could root for Catherine and I did understand why she turned into the villain we all knew.

I can’t say the same about Xifeng.

First, I felt like I was thrown into the story after it’d already begun. The romance had already started (and that’s normally a big problem for me because I don’t get to fall in love as the characters do… not that I necessarily felt like Xifeng loved Wei, anyway). The darkness inside Xifeng had already developed to a point she seemed sort of comfortable with it, and I never really felt like I watched her as someone with a good heart battling the darkness. She already seemed almost defeated and conformed to the idea that she would become a powerful and evil person at some point. It made it hard to root for her to overcome this destiny, even when I knew she’d get there eventually.

But the whole point of reading about anti-hero/anti-heroine stories for me is exactly that: rooting for something impossible. Getting so involved in the story that I forget the fact that, yeah, no matter how hard the main character fights to stay good, she’ll become evil in the end. Xifeng never felt good to me. She was too vain and selfish, and too willing to manipulate and use everyone around her to get to her goal, which made her too unlikable for me. There was no motivation for me to root for her.

Speaking of motivation, I didn’t even understand why Xifeng wanted to be Empress. Sure, there was that speech about her wanting to be someone and not to be controlled, which, YES, GIRLFRIEND, GO FOR IT. But was being evil the only way she could get there? No. That was clear, since the Queen of the Forest (I’m sure that’s not her title, but that’s how I thought of her) specifically told her there was more than one path and Xifeng didn’t have to believe she was meant for evil. But again, there was never a real struggle.

There was never the true fight between the good and evil inside of Xifeng. She continued to look at other women and call them jealous and afraid of her beauty (the girl hate was pretty obvious in this story). She continued to manipulate and use Wei (I honestly felt like she never really loved him) and the friends she made along the way to further her agenda. And that was just the beginning. It made the rest of the things she did as the book progressed less impactful, because I already didn’t like her from the start, so nothing cruel or evil she did later had a real impact.

Besides, some of Xifeng’s views of the world were truly problematic. The whole “I can’t stand under sunlight without an umbrella because I want to be pale like the Empress and don’t want to look like a lowly farm girl” thing? Oh, man. That was bad. I cringed when I read that part.

Having said all of that, I still liked the world this author created for her debut. The East Asian inspired vibe I got from it was nice and beautiful and different from what’s out there, which is a plus. I loved seeing a diverse fantasy world. The world was also dark, which worked because of the Evil Queen theme.

I also liked the writing. It’s clear the author is talented. I was a little confused at first, because the opening paragraph made it look like this wouldn’t be a close third POV, but it shifted after that and I enjoyed how the author told the story.

Judging from the tons of five-star reviews I’ve seen, my disappointment with Xifeng and her journey isn’t the norm. The majority loved the story, and I can see why. I can see its appeal. It simply didn’t work for me personally, because I need to be able to root for the character even when she’s a clear anti-heroine, and this didn’t happen here. So, my advice is: if the premise interests you, give it a chance. Maybe you’ll love it as much as the majority of readers did.

*If you liked this review (or not), if you read the book (or not), come say hello and leave your comments bellow.

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