Forest of a Thousand Lanterns or Forest of a Thousand Screams of Boredom (A Review)

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Summary: “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” (Goodreads).

My first read of the year was an utter disaster, I say. I’m going to DNF books this year, I say. Everything sucks, I say, including this novel.

Look, this book isn’t objectively awful, it’s just not interesting to me. I struggled to connect to the main characters. While I knew going in that Xifeng would be an anti-hero, I expected to find her more interesting than she is, but she’s really just a selfish girl whose sole personality trait is her ambition to be Empress. She is nothing else and that’s incredibly boring to read about. Also her love-interest Wei did absolutely nothing for me. In fact, I found him to be rather awful to Xifeng.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns happens to be very well-written with a well-designed world. Although, this world is wasted on the first hundred pages and the rest of the novel is spent in a confined palace. This is a trope I’ll forever be sick of: world-building that is not developed throughout the novel because the MC is thrown into a castle and locked there forever. See: The Bone Season. But anyway, I digress. I was fascinated by the world until the world was no longer relevant.

Furthermore, the first one-hundred or so pages could have been condensed into a quarter of that, but instead, we have a weird pacing result where the beginning is far too long and far too different from the rest of the novel. It was definitely not the most interesting part either, but again, I didn’t find much interesting.

I think this book is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” YA fantasy hasn’t been working for me lately, anyway, but I still expected so much more from this book. Asian-inspired fantasy that’s a retelling of the villain’s arc in a famous fairytale? Sign me up! Except…it’s not good at doing what it’s supposed to do.

Girls of Paper and Fire felt very similar (not that them both being inspired by Asia makes them synonymous because that’s not a hot take) in the tackling of female-centered spaces in an empire, especially with the inclusion of concubines. However, Girls of Paper and Fire doesn’t resort to girl-hate and is a much better reflection on this part of the political worlds in their respective novels.

Anywho, this book wasn’t for me, but it seems to have been for lots of people! Don’t be turned off, you may love it. I just…didn’t. Part of me wishes this was a rant review because that would have been more interesting, but I guess the bottom line is that there’s nothing completely horrendous about this book aside from it being incredibly boring.

-Book Hugger

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