Reviews for Forest of a thousand lanterns

Publishers Weekly
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Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is destined to become the empress of Feng Lu, and although she is initially uncertain about this foretold fate, the power it promises becomes too much to resist. Demons and bloody magic keep Xifeng's face preternaturally beautiful and help her harness the power of her rivals in debut author Dao's lushly written first book in the Rise of the Empress series, set in an East Asian fantasy landscape and inspired by Snow White's evil queen. Inhabiting a role usually reserved for the villain, Xifeng schemes her way into the palace, losing her lover Wei in the process. The demons she faces are both literal and metaphorical, external and internal, and her tug-of-war with the forces driving her down a dark path makes for tantalizing reading. As she strives for wealth and becomes well versed in betrayal and politics, part of her longs for a simple life like the one she left behind, brutal though it often was. A fascinating examination of destiny, responsibility, and how choices shape a person. Ages 14-up. Agent: Tamar Rydzinski, Laura Dail Literary. (Oct.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* How far would you go to fulfill your destiny? That is the question that plagues 18-year-old Xifeng. While years of manual labor and near starvation in her poor village have convinced her of her own insignificance, part of Xifeng clings desperately to the darkly magical card readings her abusive aunt, the witch Guma, has been bestowing on her since her birth readings that link Xifeng's extraordinary beauty to a great and majestic destiny, but one she can achieve only if she embraces the evil blood magic that lives within her. Armed with her aunt's prophecy and the love of Wei, a modest village boy, Xifeng makes her way to the Imperial City with one goal in mind: to become the Empress of all Feng Lu. Set in an Asian-inspired fantasy realm, Dao's debut novel is a masterful reimagining of the early life of Snow White's evil queen. Subverting the all-too-white world of fairy tales, this novel will trap readers in a lush, dangerously dark, and often beautiful world from which they will want no escape. While Xifeng is undoubtedly our antiheroine, her character is richly drawn, complicated, and, at times, vulnerable; her relentless pursuit of power is a welcome contrast to princesses of the past, who seldom had the confidence or strength to determine their own destinies.--Kuss, Rebecca Copyright 2017 Booklist

Horn Book
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Xifeng's humble beginnings included years of abuse--which only strengthened her belief that she is destined for greatness. Manipulating people through political skill and sorcery, Xifeng outwits eunuchs, rival concubines, and even the empress herself. Debut author Dao's tale of an anti-hero's rise to power in a fantastical medieval-Asian court revels--a bit too much--in descriptions of both cruelty and physical beauty. (c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal
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Gr 10 Up-Since a young age Xifeng, who possesses great beauty, has been told by her aunt, Guma, that she is destined for greatness. Through the use of dark magic and fortune cards, Guma determines Xifeng will rule as empress, even though Xifeng is in love with a poor village boy, Wei, and is nowhere near the palace. Along her path is an enemy, represented by the Fool card, that could keep her from being empress. To succeed, Xifeng will have to leave her village and embrace a growing darkness inside her, one that will make her sacrifice all she loves. Her destiny is tied to an ancient enemy of Fung Lu and to another who may be fairer than herself. Kim Mai Guest narrates, her lyrical voice drawing listeners into this well-crafted fantasy world inspired by East Asian culture. Guest captures the clash of light and darkness in Xifeng as well as the unique personalities of a full cast of characters. VERDICT Give this to fans of the origin stories of villains, such as Meyer's Heartless and Fairest, and of fantasy inspired by tales set in Asia, like Ellen Oh's "Dragon King Chronicles."-Sarah Flood, Breckinridge County Public Library, Hardinsburg, KY Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Xifeng, a poor, beautiful village girl, dares to fulfill her destiny to become the Empress of Feng Lu.Guma raised her sister's bastard daughter with aspirations lifted from card readings and smoky, incense-filled visions. Xifeng is taught history and classic verse to prepare for a fate that "lies in the Imperial Palace," but at 18 she escapes Guma's abusive love and runs away with Wei, her childhood friend and lover. Together, they embark on a journey through the Great Forest and discover friendship with Kamatsu's ambassador, a little person, and fierce warnings from the queen of the tengaru, "the demon guardians of the forest." At the end of their journey, Xifeng must enter the palace alone, as lady-in-waiting to Empress Lihua, and learn to navigate the intrigue and treachery endemic among the eunuchs and concubines of Emperor Jun's court. With every step marked with both violence and poetry, will Xifeng sacrifice love and her own humanity to gain ultimate power? Readers will appreciate the sweeping fantasy saga lifted from East Asian dynasties and endearing characters that are beautifully rendered, but elements of the far-reaching storyline don't fully intertwine and satisfy. As the story leaves Xifeng poised for Book 2, they will hope it follows through. A dark and savage fairy-tale epic with all the trappings of imperial Asia. (Fantasy. 14-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

School Library Journal
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Gr 10 Up-The first volume in the "Rise of the Empress" series, Dao builds the world of Feng Lu, five kingdoms ruled by the Dragon Lords through their earthly descendants. Xifeng is raised by her aunt Guma in desolate poverty. Guma instills in the child that she's meant for greater things than being a simple peasant. Xifeng has courtly manners and an education that will enable her rise to rule the kingdoms. Guma practices dark magic and welcomes the Serpent God who will lead Xifeng to greatness. The girl leaves her village for a life in the palace and must learn to balance cruelty with intelligence. Rich in detail and full of gore and blood, this dark novel will satisfy "Game of Thrones" fans. The magical elements are few and slow to develop in the beginning; the setting and unfolding of the plot is based in East Asian storytelling and drama. Uneven writing is confusing in chapters, but the reimagining of the Evil Queen story will entice fans of antiheroine journeys. VERDICT Violent and gory descriptions place this strong choice on high school crossover to adult fantasy shelves.-Pamela Thompson, Col. John O. Ensor Middle School, El Paso, TX Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.