ARC Review, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, by Julie C. Dao, Philomel Books



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 have been so stoked to read this book. The cover alone grabbed my attention! When I received this book from Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, I dove right in.

Julie C. Dao is a fantastic story teller, with a way of wording the interactions of her characters in a steady rhythmic fashion that keeps the reader reading. I read for hours not realizing just how much I was finishing until I looked up at the clock and saw it was 2:00 a.m., that’s how good it was. The quality of writing along with character arc development keeps the pace moving from one plot development to the next. All the characters in her book are magical to read about, but the growth of Xifeng’s character amazed me the most. You hate and pity Guma in the beginning and then just hate her for what she’s done to Xifeng. The magic portion of the story blended gently into the throws of action and added spice within character interactions, especially those involving Xifeng. 

I don’t know if it was just me, but I found it a bit too much of a western influence affecting the relationship between Wei and Xifeng in the beginning. Some of their situations and interactions seemed unlikely between a male and female of an era involving ancient dynasties? 

However, this didn’t make me hate the book. I found the creatures and challenges Xifeng faced interesting enough and just loved how this Protagonist changed from when she was living with Guma until the end of the book. The ease of reading was wonderful. I never struggled to understand the names or some of the wording used thanks to a handy glossary at the front of the book. 

Seeing how Xifeng finally achieves her goals (without spoilers here) just made me like this character more. The fact that she had to make tough choices along the way is indicative of how all women seem to have to sacrifice things they love in order to achieve goals they dream of, and this makes me wonder why it has to be this way. 

This is the author’s debut book. I look forward to reading her next. She’s earned a fan.

For this book, I give:




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