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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!**