I don't think I've ever read anything quite like this book before. It's a beautiful and diverse reimagining of the Evil Queen myth, that is, Snow White's Evil Stepmother, but it also much more than that.

Hi everyone!

I am back with another book review, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao. Thanks so much to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy of this book for an honest review. As always, all opinions are my own.

The story follows Xifeng, a beautiful but poor peasant girl who dreams of a life away from her cruel aunt. She believes her destiny is to not only travel to the Imperial City but to become the Empress. But there is a darkness inside her that she can't quite understand. A darkness her aunt claims goes back to the magic of their ancestors. Soon she finds herself in the Royal Palace, betraying those who she has come to care for and taking what she believes is rightfully hers. But at what cost?

While I, and I'm sure most people, are quite familiar with the Snow White story, I don't know a lot about the 'origin' story of the Evil Queen. After reading this book and doing a little research, I think it is safe to say that Dao does a fantastic job weaving a story for the queen that doesn't always make her out to be so evil. I always love reading a story about the villain because you learn so much more than what you normally get in the fairy tale version. No one is born evil, and Dao's interpretation shows just how far one has to come before becoming the villain we are so familiar with.

I loved the diversity in this story as well, it was woven in completely to avoid just becoming another plot point like we often see in other books. The story has lots of East Asian influences, from glimpses into the silk trade to the inclusion of mythology. While it is not a culture I am very familiar with, I enjoyed the layers it added to the story, especially when so many fairy tales only see the depiction of beautiful, young European girls. There was also a bit of, I wouldn't quite call it feminism, but just girl power going on. A good chunk of the book focuses on female characters, especially those in positions of power, and how they are able to take control of their own lives and influence change for others.

There were a couple of things that I didn't love, mainly because my understanding of them was a little fuzzy. The Serpent God element was really interesting, as was the mythology surrounding those aspects, but I think they could have been explained a little better. I'm not sure I 100% get why the Serpent God wanted this absolute power, although I'm sure I just missed that detail. I know there was a bit of explanation for elements like this, so I don't know if I was just too wrapped up in the rest of the story to fully understand or what.

I also felt like even though I think it worked well for the story, having it told in third-person POV detached me from Xifeng. That being said, I think that she is too complex of a character to have a first-person POV with. There were just a couple of times where I wished I could be in her head a bit more.

The story was a little slow to start, but you stick with it because you want to know what happens to the characters.

(sidebar: I am only just now figuring out why she chose the name White Jade... yup)

Overall, I can't wait for book two and hope it is even better than this one!