Snow White and the Evil Queen is arguably one of the most famous fairytales and we all know the story by heart, especially since there are countless of movies to remind us what is it about. This tale also caused many retellings to be created, whether it’s about Snow White, the prince, the dwarves, or the Evil Queen herself. A Forest of A Thousand Lanterns is about the latter and it is set against the backdrop of glittering East Asian empire in the city of Feng Lu.
The world building is one of the strong points in this book and it is lush, vivid, and detailed, but it’s not too detailed that it bores you. Feng Lu is obviously inspired by dynasty-time China, the Imperial Palace itself is an imitation of The Forbidden City. It’s a delight to explore the palace, revel in the secret passages and splendour of the palace through the eyes of our main character, Xifeng.
This brings me to my next point, Xifeng is not your typical main character. She’s not nice and she’s not shy. She’s beautiful and she knows it—she wields her beauty as her weapon and uses it to fulfil her supposed destiny as the Empress of Feng Lu. She’s cunning, cold, ruthless, and vain. She should be the type of character that readers dislike, but the author paints her in such an amazing way that I couldn’t help being intrigued by her. She managed to enter the palace and survive the court politics through the combination of her beauty, cunning, and perseverance, so you can’t help but admire her.
Other people in the court are not helpless either; they are just as cunning and determined as Xifeng in holding onto their position. The queen, the princes, the concubines, the eunuchs… even the maid. However, they are not as fleshed out as Xifeng is, and since we see them through Xifeng eyes, what we get is what Xifeng feels about them—so about 99% of the time is perceiving them as a threat. Since Xifeng is pretty proud and vain with her beauty, there will be a lot of physical descriptions in this book and Xifeng’s judgement towards those people.
For a book that set in a palace, the politics and power struggle are not disappointing either. We could see the rise and fall, the push and pull of power within the palace. The plot moves nicely and allows us readers to be part of the politics and growth of characters. It unfolds the magical aspect of the stories, about Gods and Lords, in the right pacing, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the world and the stories about the kingdoms.
All in all, Forest of A Thousand Lantern is a strong series opener. With its lush world building, ancient magical power being at work, and an anti-hero as the main character, this book is definitely a page-turner and I’m intrigued of how Xifeng’s story would end. If you’re looking for a fairytale retellings, specifically about The Evil Queen, this book is for you.
Have you read this book? Tell us in the comments below!
Synopsis | Goodreads
An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.
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.