Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao // Flat characters, dull plot, and one disappointed me.

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

Rating: 1.5 Stars

Release Date: October 10. 2017

Genre: YA Fantasy

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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I thought I would love this book. And I do think I’ll be in the minority when it comes to not liking this; sadly, it just didn’t work for me.

I did want to talk a little bit about the author, who I think is super cool. I randomly followed her on Twitter about six months ago, and she is awesome!! Her excitement for her book is so inspiring and contagious, and I truly am happy for her. That’s another reason I’m so sad about not liking this book; I really wanted to join in all the excitement leading up to and following its release.

7 Things About Forest of a Thousand Lanterns 

1) I didn’t think the characters weren’t very developed. I never got a feel for any of them. Actually, all I know about the main character, Xifeng, for example, is that she wants to be empress. But that leads to another problem: none of the characters, especially Xifeng, had any motivations. Xifeng just wants to be empress, but the only “why” I could gather from the story was that her aunt had basically groomed her to want to be. It wasn’t believable, especially since Xifeng does some pretty cruel things in the name of chasing her destiny. I like villains. I don’t mind when they’re evil and cruel, because that’s what a villain is. But they’ve got to have compelling motivations, or else I just feel annoyed and a little grossed out. None of the other characters had personalities either, especially the love interest, Wei, who was about as interesting as uncooked pasta.

2) Even though the world is really imaginative and unique, the worldbuilding itself is pretty vague. I LOVED the East Asian setting. I also liked the way the mythology was woven into the story. But, nothing was really clear enough for me to get a feel for the world. Yeah, there are other kingdoms, but what are the relationships between these kingdoms? What are there cultures? Actually, what are some interesting things about Feng Lu? It took me 2/3 of the book to even figure out the names of the different empires. That’s a problem. Some detail could have really helped strengthen the worldbuilding in this book. 

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3) Nothing really happens, except for right at the beginning and very close to the end. Lots of people die unnecessarily. There’s a weird romance that doesn’t go anywhere. Oh, and Xifeng works to ascend the throne… which was not nearly as exciting as it could’ve been. I feel like this would have made a great short story; unfortunately, in book form, it was full of filler and not much else. And… there’s a sequel. I’m not sure why.

4) There are a lot of issues presented in this book, and the author deconstructs a few (not all!) of them pretty well. I feel like the whole concept of how physical beauty is so important even though it shouldn’t be was thought out really well. Xifeng recognizes how much her beauty helps her, and she also recognizes that this is a problem. (Even though that doesn’t stop her from coooonstanly  treating other girls poorly because they’re not as pretty, or stop us from coooonstantly having to be told how beautiful she is. Ugh.She realizes that Guma, her aunt, is abusive, even though she sometimes behaves frustratingly. In this, Dao does a good job at showing how an abused person might think of and behave towards their abuser; as someone who loves them and just needs another chance, even though we as the reader can see how frustrating that it. But, there was also a weird, creepy romance with a weird, creepy controlling guy that was presented as completely normal! Also, the world was super, super sexist and full to the brim with girl hate. Just why… why is this necessary? This is a fantasy world full of MAGIC and yet we can’t have equality and decency.

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5) The romance is stupid. Like I said, creepy controlling romance that is pretty much pointless. It never goes anywhere, and there is no chemistry between Xifeng and Wei. I honestly have no clue why everyone ships them so hard.

6) The writing was pretty, but the story was super confusing. It took me forever to figure out what was going on. I’m not sure if this was because there was not, in fact, anything actually going on, or because the writing, while pretty, was a little dense and occasionally pretty dry. And that twist at the end was weird. But I LOVED the way the Snow White fairy tale played into the story. Except… it didn’t actually truly start until the last few pages. This isn’t necessarily bad, considering this is a villain *origin* story and not a fairy tale retelling. I do think the fairy tale retelling aspect of this book will be fantastic in the sequel.

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7) I think part of the reason I didn’t like this book is that I maybe don’t like “dark” books as much as I act like I do.  But, I do like “dark” books. But I like dark books like Six of Crows and Heartless and A Face Like Glass (Yes, I find a way to mention Hardinge in every post xD) where there’s still some light, and where the characters all have compelling motivations and where there’s a point to it all. This book has people eating hearts (literally!! it’s gross!! I almost threw up!) and murdering people for no real reason and it’s just depressing. I don’t like gore, I don’t like senseless hatred and violence and revenge, I don’t like villains who are evil for no apparent reason. And that’s just me.

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Obviously lots of other people like this book, and like I said, I’m super disappointed. Actually, I think at this point 95% of my most anticipated 2017 releases have been major disappointments. This is when I give up and wait for this stunning book, because I know I will love it.

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What’s a book you read recently that you thought you’d love but hated? How do you feel about “dark” books? What do you think is something that makes a good villain?


Content guide: Characters have sex, but it is not described in any detail. There is some very light profanity. The book is somewhat gory; for example, Xifeng literally eats hearts, and this is pretty descriptive. 

**Thank you to Emma @ Miss Print’s ARC Adoption for sending me this arc!**

27 thoughts on “Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao // Flat characters, dull plot, and one disappointed me.

  1. As long as I don’t read them late at night, I don’t mind dark books, but if I read them too late, I won’t get to sleep for hours… and of course I can never put them down, and end up reading until eleven…
    I totally agree about villains, they absolutely NEED to be believable, otherwise I really don’t care what happens to them. I find that the villains I hate the most are usually the ones I can feel some amount of pity for.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Wei, who was about as interesting as uncooked pasta” HAHAHA!
    Okay this review was amazing. I am sad that you didn’t like it! Gore doesn’t bother me TOO MUCH, so I don’t know, maybe I will like this? I’m willing to give it a chance, even though I only gave Heartless about a 3 star rating and it was a villain origin story too.
    Who knows. Maybe I’ll like it. Maybe I won’t. But hey, it’s fantasy, so why not.
    I hope you have a bit more luck with your anticipated releases, it absolutely sucks that you’re not into them as much as you thought you’d be! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ;D
      Oh my goodness, thank you!! I’ve been kind of worried about my new format, so I’m glad this review was still helpful!!
      I LOVED Heartless, so maybe you will like this one since you didn’t like it? Who knows. I’d say they’re very different.
      Thanks!! I know, I’m kind of sad 😥

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooh maybe! Haha I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 😀 My anticipated releases so far have been blowing my mind (Assassin’s Fate, Godsgrave…) so I hope something gets you excited later this year!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hope so!! I mean, shipping to Australia had better be worth it, right? xD.
        That’s so cool!! Hopefully your good luck will continue.
        Me too!! I’m positive the Hardinge will be perfect, because it always is, and I just got an arc for a fantasy I’m really excited for!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh man that’s such a bummer to hear! I actually just read a book where I felt the same way about the characters. They didn’t feel fleshed out, or unique, or REAL.

    AND LITERALLY SAME ON THE WORLDBUILDING. But I swear it wasn’t this book hahaha (spoiler: it was The Shadow Queen)

    Well, even for a veeeeery dark book for me the characters still have to have a REASON for what they are doing. It just doesn’t make sense or feel realistic otherwise. No one is just evil. No one does bad things for fun unless they are seriously unhinged. Which is also a reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s the worst, isn’t it?? I’d MUCH rather have developed characters over an interesting plot or something.

      Haha!! I haven’t read the Shadow Queen. I keep having to talk myself out of it, because I know it has that issue xD.

      Exactly!! I can handle dark books just fine, even if they’re maybe not my favorite ever, but if there’s no motivation for anything i can’t stand them.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Eeep sadness that you didn’t like this one! I’m a little worried about the not-so-great romance aspect because that always ticks me off in books too. Buuut I still do want to read this! I don’t mind it being uber dark, but I definitely will have cautiously lowered expectations now. 🙈🙊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know!! It’s tragic :’C
      Yeah, the romance is uggh. I dont’ know, maybe it’s just me, becuase everyone else seems to ship them so hard and I’m just over here like, wut.
      I hope you like the book!!

      Like

  5. I DO want to read this but based on your review..I’m not sure. I don’t really like the covers? BUT ANYWAYS back to the point. If I can’t connect to the characters, that knocks off 2 stars. And the wolrd building, that’s another star. So I really can’t see myself liking this one! You write your reviews amazingly.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. OKAY SO I WROTE A SUPER LONG COMMENT ON THIS AT 3 IN THE MORNING (9 hours ago) and wordpress decided to be a class-a jerk and refresh and DELETE EVERYTHING I WROTE so I’m going to try to recapture the essence of three o’clock me.
    I said something about how I thought the fact that Xifeng eats hearts sounded like a metaphor to me at first, but then I thought it sounded way too explicit and in your face to just be a metaphor?? Then I realized she was LITERALLY a man-eater (hall & oates) and I had to take a moment to laugh into my pillow because it was 3 am and I did not want to wake the other humans in the house and start world war 3.
    I’m disappointed that you didn’t end up liking this, I know how excited you were!! I think I still wanna grab this one. Actually, I had no intention of picking it up until I read your review and now I’m just super curious?? I make sense, mhm.
    OH ALSO, I had decided last night that your obsession with Hardinge constitutes a conglomeration of your names at this point. I believe the options I provided were Lancis or Flenna or Flencis. I like Flenna the most I think. 10/10 A+ to my 3 am self 😛
    xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES I’VE DONE THAT. ON YOUR BLOG.
      Anyway.
      Yeah, maybe it is a metaphor?? Except, a really weird one?? I don’t know. I can see it.
      HAHAHA
      I do that too!! Sometimes I want to see how bad something really is for myself xD. Who knows, maybe you’ll like it if you decide to read it??
      HARDINGE IS THE BEEEST. I like Flencis. Maybe that will be my secret name now.
      I would like to have a conversation with your 3 am self. That would be quite entertaining, I think xD.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m still going to read it but point four and seven are big problems for me. I’ve no problem with gore or heartless villains but many presented the protagonist as a anti-hero… while from your review she just appears as bad. Senseless violence and the beauty point… I feel that I’m going to hate her. And the romance.
    I will brace myself when I’m going to read this novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope you like it!!
      Yeah. Everyone else is saying things like, “Xifeng is such an unapologetic antiheroine” and I’m over here like, cool, but that’s not actually a good thing xD.
      Yeah, the beauty point was frustrating!! i feel like the author has the opposite view Xifeng does, and just wanted to emphasize Xifeng’s evilness, but it was really, really aggravating to read!!
      Haha, good luck!!

      Like

  8. Oh nooooo I was looking forward to this book so much!! 😭 Sucks to hear about the romance and world building, not to mention characters? AGH. I’m probably still going to end up reading it but definitely won’t have as high expectations! LOVED your review. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Agh, it sucks that you were disappointed! I absolutely LOVE dark books, but the characters have to be dark/villains for a reason, like you said. And UGH YES. It’s a freaking FANTASY WORLD and you can make it whatever you want… so why put sexism in there??? And unnecessary romances are thr WORST, god. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. OH no, I’m so sorry to hear you were disappointed by this book :/ It is one of my most anticipated reads just as well, but I think I’ll lower my expectations a little bit now. I’m sorry you couldn’t connect with the characters and that they felt poorly developed, especially when it comes to the villains. It’s so annoying when you can’t get any kind of motive behind their actions :/
    I hope your next read will be better! xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s really sad!! I hope you like it though. Most people do, so I’d say you’ve got a pretty good chance of enjoying it!!
      Yeah, normally I love villains, but that’s when there’s a good reason for their actions.
      Thanks, me too!!

      Liked by 1 person

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