By Cynthia Bujnicki
The cards promised Xifeng greatness, promised that she would be Empress of Feng Lu. However, with greatness comes a dark price that may cost Xifeng everything she holds dear and every bit of goodness within her.
What a fantastic take on a fairy tale legend. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns offers readers a unique spin on an old tale following one young girl from the country with beauty and eyes set for the throne of the Kingdom of Feng Lu. However, her journey is fraught with danger and darkness trailing the way and tempting her at every corner.
There’s so much conflict in Xifeng as she seeks greatness while battling the darkness within her, the darkness that threatens to change her, and not for the better. The conflict that drives her internal narrative is captivating because it makes her more human, it presents an in-depth look at who the future evil queen was and her journey to the dark path. However, the path is not accessible for the darkness, Xifeng challenges it when she can, her motivations changing from selfless to selfish ever so slowly. Moreover, to watch it unfold, it draws the reader into the story; it makes the reader pity her as they watch her slow descent into darkness. It is utterly riveting in the way it tells the story, how it lays out the choices, Xifeng faces the paths that are before, and every opportunity she has to turn her back on the darkness. It is compelling and unique in the way it operates and creates Xifeng’s voice in the story making her a complex character.
Characterization aside, the story is also enthralling. The East Asian elements that mirror the original fairy tale are fantastic to read and follow. These traits give the story a freshness and make the story interesting because so much of that culture and folklore seeps through the pages and adds new elements and dimension to an otherwise familiar tale. However, the twists and turns, the way the culture in the novel resonate off the pages and creates the images and magic, is so entrancing. From the magic mirror to the Huntsman, the way the gripping quality of writing and Dao’s love of her culture make the story a fresh new fairy tale.
It is a vibrant and complex new take on a tale readers are already familiar with strong characterization, scene structure, and magical imagery to keep the reader spellbound, (★★★★☆ | A)