Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C Dao. Penguin USA. 2017. Available through Axis 360.
The summer reading program has begun, and it’s not just for the little ones. This year’s “Imagine Your Story” theme is a perfect excuse to reach for some new versions of childhood favorite stories–like this dark, haunting prequel to Snow White.
Xifeng is destined to be Empress of China; at least, that’s what Aunt Guma’s blood magic has to say about it. The young woman has spent her first 18 years in a small Chinese village, forced to participate in her aunt’s dark magic rituals and endure her abuse. Xifeng does, however, have her beauty. She is the fairest of them all in her village, and perhaps all of China. She also has the love of the most desirable young man in the village, Wei, though Guma is certain she is destined for a far greater husband.
Xifeng, though, isn’t certain about anything, except that she wants to be free of Guma. She wants to make her own choices, and finally agrees to flee with Wei. Along the way to the capital city, the runaways meet other travelers and the beautiful Tengaru demons. Their queen offers caution about the future, but upon reaching the capital, Xifeng allows temptation to sway her toward a darker path. She enters the service of the Empress.
Soon Immersed in the vicious world of power struggles and lies hidden behind pretty words, Xifeng must continue to make hard choices–will she continue the dark, bloody path to the throne in spite of her growing respect for the Empress? Or will she choose the true love, and the anonymity, that would come from marriage to Wei?
This beautiful story of the evil queen’s beginnings is not a gentle read. The author makes Xifeng’s struggles with the darkness inside her clear throughout the novel, and demonstrates that one’s choices shape their destiny. Xifeng’s story will make readers pause to consider the consequences of their own decisions and whether what they think they want is actually best. This dark fairy tale is perfect for those craving something different than princesses and happy ever after, or for those who like their fairy tales with a twist.
Kelsey Blackburn is Library Assistant at North Park Public Library. She can be reached at email@example.com.