Forest of a Thousand Lanterns will entrance you with its lush scenery, its compelling heroine, and its clever plot. There is such an intoxicating power within this novel, that lurks underneath the surface, like gazing into the sun. You cannot help but be entranced by it, slowly pulled further, until you recognize in its eyes the glint of a predator.
It is written in the fabrics of destiny, that Xifeng was born for greatness, to be the Empress of Feng Lu – despite what her current situation might suggest. Growing up in poverty as a seamstress to her aunt, a firm believer in sorcery, Xifeng is both skeptical of this grand fate, but also unable to hold herself back from chasing after it. Unsure of how to accept her destiny and maintain the selfless adoration of her lover, she faces a choice: embrace the darkness hiding deep within herself or live a life of obscurity. Little does she know that while her fate is grand, it is but one piece of an even larger scheme – the manipulations of a god.
This book reflects all the things I have been searching for and more – as if it read the fine print within my heart. It contains a challenging family relationship, a dilemma between love and ambition, and entrancing dark sorcery. I am overjoyed with this debut, because it seems to be falling into a trend in my life, where I am relishing in this anti-heroine narrative and basking in their power.
Xifeng is scarred, but strong. She is the type of character who reminds us that sometimes the deepest wounds are the ones that leave no visible trace. With any narrative, the fierce battle between nature and nurture rear their twin heads. It is riveting to watch them play in the life of Xifeng – to witness their interaction and the way that they defeat attempts at definition. Her struggle, not only with the ambition but also the darkness within her, is absolutely relatable as we are forced each day to choose our paths. Each day we face the conflict to choose our actions, to walk in the light or gaze from the shadows.
There is a dark power lurking underneath, like a snake that spies on us from the shadows, waiting to strike. Dao delivers a plot that is multi-faceted and brilliant in all its colors. It is complex and surprising, constantly revealing more pieces of itself. The other side characters are vibrantly painted, even if their presence is a mere glimpse, and they bring a life to the entire world. Their richness does not take away from the captivating plot or the main character, but merely lend their power to make the story come alive within your hands.
Dao will weave us into this stunning story, enfolding us with the softness of silk, and wrapping us in the embraces of familiarity – much like a spider spinning its web. And at the end of the book, we are trapped, hanging on every word, and watching our calendars from the confine of our traps. Xifeng is everything I wish I could have read when I was growing up in high school, illustrating that the paths of the heroes are too often glorified and lacking imperfections, despite their shocking similarity to those of the ‘villain’. She represents a future that does not seek to provide one model of heroism and challenges the black and white line in the sand between good and evil.
Disclaimer: I received an arc from a friend.
What is the last dark fantasy book you read?
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