Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Julie C. Dao
Published on October 10, 2017
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About Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
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 picked up this book after hearing a ton of buzz about it on Twitter and review blogs. For some reason, though, I didn’t piece together what it was until I read something in an email when I was about halfway through reading the book. This is a re-imagined origin story about the Evil Queen (Snow White’s stepmother) in mythological Chinese setting. As soon as I realized that, I felt like a light went on for me.
Because wow, it’s so dark. The whole eating hearts thing is super creepy, and I kept thinking why is she doing this? She’s the protagonist! Why isn’t she resisting evil more completely? I kept waiting for her to break away from the dark magic, and was frustrated when she didn’t. Then I realized I didn’t understand the purpose of the story. Once I figured out where it was going, things made a lot more sense and I could enjoy watching the elements of the story unfold and appreciate the clever way certain things were re-invented (already there’s a dwarf character, an ambassador from another country, for instance).
The writing and the story world pretty much blew me away. It’s a much darker story than I realized before picking it up, though. I think fans of Fairest by Marissa Meyer will appreciate Forest of a Thousand Lanterns for its unapologetic, clever spin on one of the most iconic fairy tale villains.Recommended for Ages 16 up.
This is an origin story about the wicked queen from the Snow White fairy tale, but reimagined with Chinese characters/setting.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.
Kissing between boy and girl. Xifeng has sex with Wei – few details. It says something about them fitting together like interlaced fingers. She definitely uses his love for her and the intimacy they share to try to control him and keep him from leaving her.
Guma uses rituals to access the magical ability carried down through her family. One such ritual involves eating a living heart. Xifeng eats the hearts of two rabbits in one scene. Horse-like creatures (also called demons) save Xifeng and her friends from assassins. The demon queen references a great destiny for Xifeng and talks about how there are two forces at war within her: one for evil and one for good. She warns Xifeng about the blood rituals and says there’s a price for them that she doesn’t know, as Xifeng’s aunt only taught her parts of the truth about them. She alludes to the idea that Xifeng’s aunt promised Xifeng to the serpent god in exchange for her power.
Xifeng wrestles with her connection to the serpent god, often finding herself at moments where she must decide to serve him or resist his influence. She recognizes as evil, but he offers her great power, which she craves more than anything.
Guma beats Xifeng when she’s displeased with her. She’s cruel and manipulative. See above regarding the blood rituals for magic.
Xifeng eats the hearts of her enemies to gain magical power. There are some pretty graphic descriptions of her removing a heart from a victim. (This happens several times.)
Xifeng learns someone poisoned an important character.