Xifeng has always been told of her great destiny, but she doesn’t know if she believes in it. When she travels to the Imperial City she will have to choose between warring urges. Will she marry Wei and live a simple life or embrace the darkness that draws her and chase a powerful destiny?
Rating: ★★★★★ – it was amazing
Genre: young adult fiction, ya fantasy, fairytale retelling
Pros: #OwnVoices, beautifully written, excellent spin on an old story
Cons: somewhat slow beginning (but this is barely a con, and I’ll explain why)
An Own Voices novel and a fairy tale retelling, what could be better? Well, it could be beautifully written, as Forest of a Thousand Lanterns most certainly is.
The most interesting thing to me is how Dao had me completely forgetting that this was the story of the evil queen! I was rooting for Xifeng the entire time, constantly hoping she would find ways to outsmart her enemies and get more powerful. It wasn’t until the very end that I started to remember I was cheering on someone who is technically the villain of the story! And even once I did I found it impossible to dislike her.
This is not the first time I’ve read a book about this fairytale character’s origin, but never have I found myself rooting for her or liking her, or even feeling all that sorry for her for that matter. But with FOTL I knew from the beginning who Xifeng was, and I still didn’t think about it until almost the end of the novel because I cared about her the whole time.
There was a short time at the beginning of the book (basically, the parts leading up to Xifeng’s arrival in the Imperial City) where I felt like things were moving kind of slowly. It wasn’t unenjoyable to read or anything; I never felt like I was forcing myself to keep reading. I just found myself wondering if some of the stuff I was reading even needed to be there.
However, I don’t actually think it was a real problem, because later on I came to believe those things did need to be in the story. I think all the stuff in the beginning which made it seem a bit long before the action really began may be what helped to build that great empathy I felt for Xifeng that let me forget she was supposed to turn into a villain.
I honestly never expected to get so excited over a retelling of Snow White, since it’s a really well known and oft retold tale, but Julie C. Dao did an amazing job. The new setting and the dark fantasy aspect really made this story better than any others I’ve found.
Another great thing was the descriptive language the author uses. It painted such a vivid picture that I never had trouble staying in the story and I often found myself stopping to reread a line or two because it was just so beautifully written.
I pretty much recommend this book to everyone, but specifically fans of fairytale retellings & YA Fantasy, or anyone wanting to read more books with non-white characters/authors. Because the only real drawback to this book is having to wait to read the sequel!
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