Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. DaoForest Of A Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Forest Of A Thousand Lanterns

byJulie C. Dao

Hardcover | October 10, 2017

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The Wrath and the Dawn meets Snow White and the Huntsman in this dark and mystical East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress.

"A richly developed fantasy world . . . Julie C. Dao is a talent to watch."—Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Young Elites

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. 

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with both breathtaking pain and beauty, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns possesses all the hallmarks of masterful fantasy: dazzling magic, heartbreaking romance, and a world that hangs in the balance. Fans of Heartless, Stealing Snow, and Red Queen will devour this stunning debut.

Praise for Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

A Junior Library Guild Selection

"A richly developed fantasy world coupled with an ambitious anti-heroine of complex agency, this story shines and surprises at every turn. Julie C. Dao is a talent to watch."—Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Young Elites

★ "A masterful reimagining of the early life of Snow White’s Evil Queen."—Booklist, starred review

★ "Lushly written . . . tantalizing reading."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Rich in detail and full of gore and blood, this dark novel will satisfy ‘Game of Thrones’ fans."—School Library Journal

“A stunning reimagining of the Evil Queen. Filled with treacherous courtesans, dark magic, terrible choices, and bloody hearts, Julie Dao’s exquisite take on this classic villain rises far above the average retelling.”—Stephanie Garber, New York Times bestselling author of Caraval

Magnetic, seductive, and alluring, Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a lush, captivating read about desire and the lengths to which we will go to find our true destiny.”—S. Jae-Jones, New York Times bestselling author of Wintersong
Julie C. Dao ( is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York. She studied medicine in college, but came to realize blood and needles were her Kryptonite. By day, she worked in science news and research; by night, she wrote books about heroines unafraid to fight for their dreams, which inspired her to ...
Title:Forest Of A Thousand LanternsFormat:HardcoverDimensions:384 pages, 9.25 × 6.44 × 1.07 inPublished:October 10, 2017Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1524738298

ISBN - 13:9781524738297


Rated 4 out of 5 by from A unique fairytale retelling Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a slow book but it's not a boring book. Because it's a villain origin story of the Snow White fairy tale, you know what Xifeng's fate will ultimately be, but that just complicates her character even further. I didn't hate Xifeng despite her ruthlessness and the cruel things she'd do later on. I liked her. I sympathized with her and even pitied her. She's a young woman with big dreams that weren't even hers to begin with. The whole time I was reading, I felt so much uneasiness because I knew things weren't going to go well. Xifeng's fate would consist of being a sad, lonely woman with too much power on her hands and a giant court of judgemental eyes watching her every move. This book reminds me of that image of a serpent eating its own tail. This book was entertaining but it's set-up for a bigger, grander tale later on. However, that story of a young, beautiful, kind girl defeating an evil queen would be contrived if it weren't for this first book that built up a formidable and fleshed out villain. This is a book that won't be as strong or interesting as its next instalment but that sequel wouldn't nearly be as satisfying it weren't for its predecessor.
Date published: 2018-05-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I loved it so much!! The writing style was beautiful and so atmospheric and for the most part, I enjoyed that it was slow paced and built up the story until the ending which was so good and such a cliff-hanger and I can't wait for the next one!! I thought Xifeng's character development was extremely well done and seeing her grow from an innocent girl from a small village to the freaking evil queen was so interesting to read. The world was so interesting and vibrant and I hope there's more development on it in the next book as well because there were a few things that went over my head or I had a hard time understanding. The reason I didn't give this a full 5 stars was because there were some sections that were just so slow-paced and boring I ended up skim reading but they were more in the middle chunk of the book. Also, I didn't really connect with any of the characters and they all felt one-dimensional to me. A lot of them were just there as a prop for Xifeng to use and maybe that was the point but I just wish the side characters were more developed. Also I just wanted to mention that I thought the underground spring was so cool and unique and just the perfect way to incorporate the mirror from Snow White. This book was just so good and I need the next one now!! Overall, I loved this book and I highly recommend it if you're a fan of retellings. Dao is one of my new favourite authors and I can't wait to read what she comes out with next!
Date published: 2018-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Villainous My only real exposure to the Evil Queen story has been watching the classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and from watching Once Upon A Time. This story definitely did not disappoint when I heard that it was basically an East Asian re-telling of the Evil Queen story, as everything seemed to line up with what little I know. I could tell from chapter 1 that Xifeng was going to be an interesting character to read about. I don't know read books told from a villain's point of view and I was able to gather some insight into the struggles Xifeng faced to make her destiny come true. I think I know where the sequel will go, and I am very excited for it!
Date published: 2018-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Insane what a complicated tapestry really curious to see what happens next cause i do admire Xifeng, but also she not a good person
Date published: 2018-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Evil Queen at Her Best! Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao is the first book in East Asian inspired fantasy retelling of the Evil Queen. It follows Xifeng as she goes from being a poor village girl to the Empress' lady in waiting and has her sights set on being the next Empress. With dark magic flowing through her veins, she must combat between the good and evil inside her. But is it too much for her to handle? HOLY MOLY BOOKWORMS. If you haven't read this one yet, then I don't know what you are waiting for. This was hands down one of my favorite reads of 2017! I loved pretty much everything about it. I can barely contain my excitement as I write this. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was lustrous and visually appealing to my imagination. Dao takes you on a magical adventure filled with beauty, power, love, and deceit. The way her writing ebbed and flowed made it enjoyable to read and easy to follow. It was laced with vivid descriptions, beautiful atmospheric scenery, and swoon-worthy dialogues. My favorite character was hands down Xifeng. It's been a while since I last read an anti-hero type character like her. I was rooting for her to do the right thing, but also secretly enjoying her evil side. You could tell it was always a battle inside her when it came to unleashing her dark magic. She was equal bits kind and cruel, beautiful and hideous, good and evil. Her character growth was astounding. The plot was also very fast moving as well. You would think a journey from being a poor village girl to the imperial palace to becoming a handmaiden, and trying to take the throne all in one book would be too much to handle, but Dao does so without taking away from character development and world building. I thought everything was done so precisely. I know there is so much more to come in the sequel, especially after that ending, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. If you haven't picked up Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, then I highly recommend you do so. You won't be disappointed.
Date published: 2018-02-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautiful and Dark I love the blend of the evil stepmother in Snow White with Asian fantasy, it was beautiful. The story was a steady pace and it wasn't predictable.
Date published: 2018-02-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A For the Lover of Books Review I feel really guilty for not having enjoyed Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, yet I just couldn’t get into it. As with all of the other books I have reviewed recently, I read this one a while ago, so I may not have everything I say right. Please feel free to correct me if I got something wrong. I want to talk about the writing first. In the beginning, the writing came very close to sucking me into the story, but would break the spell a paragraph later. I hate to say this, but if I hadn’t known this was a debut already, I would have been able to tell based on the writing alone. Throughout the entire book, I really didn’t understand Xifeng’s motives, which I think was my major issue with Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. I mean, “the cards said I should become empress” (not an actual quote) isn’t really enough justification to start murdering people and eating hearts. It didn’t seem like she even really wanted to be empress, yet it was all she could talk about. I think part of the reason I’m didn’t understand her motives is I also wasn’t convinced that Xifeng ever loved Wei. She just seemed possessive in general. Overall, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns wasn’t for me, but it might be for you. It has therefore earned 3 stars out of 5.
Date published: 2017-12-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Just okay 2.5 Stars This book had everything I wanted, it just didn't deliver. There were so many missed opportunities for great character development, and i think she could have pushed the asian folklore a little more than she did. It tried, but I needed more.
Date published: 2017-12-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from ok I loved everything about this book!
Date published: 2017-12-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I was immensely disappointed by this book I appear to be the odd man out in this because I really found myself disappointed with this book. I loved the setting a ton. I really love books with politics and retellings but I forced myself to finish this book. I really did not like the writing. There were long stretches were it just felt like the book was idling and nothing was happening. I love a good villain. Whether they are horrible or lovable or morally grey–I am a fan but I could not STAND Xifeng. She was just a crappy human being–especially to her original romance interest. Anytime she did anything (that I know was definitely supposed to have an impact on me), I just rolled by eyes and thought “I’m not buying this.” I wanted more form the character! Not a character who is doing something because she was told to by her aunt (that entire lineage reveal with her aunt didn’t make any sense to me either since it never became an important part of the plot). I found the Emperor really under developed. All I got from him was that he was somehow supposed to be not a horrible person yet had tons of concubines and children he didn’t seem to care for. Rather confused how (and honestly why) this is becoming a sequel rather than a standalone but that’s probably just from my negative takeaway of the book. Ugh! I was just really frustrated with this book. I had such high hopes and it didn’t go anywhere for me. I won’t be picking up the sequel.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Amazing Dark Retelling of the Evil Queen I loved this lush, diverse fantasy! I'm not usually one for villain origin stories, but Julie's retelling of Snow White's Evil Queen engrossed me from the beginning to end! I couldn't get enough of it and though Xifeng did some uncomfortable things at time, you still understood where she was coming from. Would definitely recommend for any fantasy lover!
Date published: 2017-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully Imagined Fantasy Tale Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a gorgeously written debut novel inspired by the Evil Queen legend from Snow White. Xifeng lives a frugal and unhappy life in her dilapidated family home, along with her aunt Guma who raised her. By reading cards and practicing magic, Guma sees greatness in her niece's future, but this rise to power will come at a price. Xifeng will have to give up something or someone important to her to achieve it. Xifeng is beautiful, ambitious and intelligent. She has a difficult and complicated relationship with her aunt. Although Guma treats her harshly with her words and physically beats her, she expresses that she has high expectations for her niece. Xifeng lives for the rare moments of kindness and occasional approval she receives from her aunt, hoping for genuine love and affection from her. Deciding to take her fate into her own hands, she leaves Guma and her village behind. She travels with her lover Wei to the Imperial City in the hopes of becoming the one destined to unite the five kingdoms and bring peace to the continent. However, it is foretold there is another whose destiny may be greater than her own. Xifeng has an inner malevolence that she desperately strives to suppress. She is quick to anger and has extremely violent thoughts about others who she feels have slighted her, no matter how insignificant the circumstance. She constantly struggles to fight this creature within her and not embrace the darkness which will destroy her soul. Her transformation through her choices is plausible and authentic. She is resourceful as she faces adversity and rivals on her path to becoming the Empress. There is remarkable attention to detail in every aspect of the story. The village, the Emperor’s palace, Imperial City and the forest where the tengaru reside, are all magnificently described. The characters are extremely well-developed, unique and believable. The connections and interactions between the women are more potent and fascinating than the romances, which makes for a more thought-provoking narrative. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a powerful and compelling fantasy tale, filled with mystery, dark magic and secrets. Julie C. Dao has created a kingdom that is beautifully imagined. With East Asian mythology, colourful demons, political intrigue, complex relationships and an ambitious, yet tortured anti-heroine, I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Date published: 2017-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Quite the Dark Mesmerizing Tale Nothing can compare to the excitement I felt at receiving an early copy of Forest of a Thousand Lanterns! I loved the Asian-inspired tale infused with magic and darkness. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a retelling of an evil queen and how she came to powers. It has quite a dark undertone with graphically detailed scenes. I was caught off guard but I'm glad Julie didn't shy away from showing us the brutal reality of life at court. How when you've been outplayed and have nowhere to turn, the helplessness could push you down a path of no return. They set the mood of the book. I also really enjoyed picking out pieces of the original fairy tale from the story. I don't believe the fairy tale is a spoiler but since I haven't seen any direct mentions of it, I've say it. Xifeng's tale is every bit as beautiful and deadly as the cover. From a young age, she has been groomed by her aunt to be more. Her beauty was a tool she was to use to achieve greatness and the boy she loves was a means to an end. While Xifeng knows Guma is poison, she couldn't help but want to please her aunt. In part also to prove to herself and other that she is more. Her strong-willed nature set her down a lonely path. "The truest love and friendship rarely come to those in power." (p. 85). I want to say the forbidden magic in her made her commit all the cruel acts but really her choices were entirely her own. In a way it was empowering to see her be her own person. We see many characters come into Xifeng's life but there were two people that were perhaps most meaningful. Wei was everything to Xifeng. Early into the book I knew they wouldn't have a happy ending but I held out hope. I was prepared for heartbreak but I was not ready for the act that would truly split them apart. They loved so fiercely my heart definitely ached for their ending. Despite her goal, Xifeng came to care for Empress Lihua and vice versa. Court politics were always riddled with double meaning so I appreciated how much truth rang in words the pair exchanged. "Love does not always come with marriage... Marriage may strength a woman, but love weakens her. She has more to lose." "But in weakness, you find your strength... You leave pieces of yourself in the ones you love. Is that not the greatest power, to endure in that way?" (p. 292). If not for the Empress, Xifeng's initial life at court would have been much more difficult and dangerous. A wonderfully woven tale of love and sacrifices Forest of a Thousand Lanterns leaves an impression on you. I can't wait to see what Julie has for us in the next Rise of the Empress book!
Date published: 2017-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Unpredictable, Diverse and Dark Fantasy When I heard people raving about this Diverse Reads book on Twitter, and after reading the synopsis I IMMEDIATELY added to my wish list. Julie Dao is such a sweet person and it just made me want to immerse myself in her world more. In A Few Words: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was a dark, lush fantasy that will make readers root for an anti-heroine that we grew up hating. It was gorgeous, powerful and filled with diversity. I couldn’t recommend it more. Let’s break it down: WRITING: Julie Dao’s writing was impressive. While the beginning of the story was slow, it was the writing that kept me at it. It wasn’t overly complicated writing, but it still had this gorgeous flow that kept you hooked. In the more intense scenes (no spoilers) that come later in the book, it made me feel what Xifeng felt. Her hopes, her desperation, her need to be something better than everybody else. It’s the kind of writing that makes you believe and it doesn’t get any better than that! IDEA: If you don’t know, this book is a reimagined re-telling of Snow White. I’m not going to spoil anything, but this book IS NOT the tale you heard as a child, hence the word RE-IMAGINED. It was a very dark and different perspective on the story, and since I’m a dark and twisty person always searching for the worst boy and most cunning girl in books, THIS WAS MY CUP OF TEA! PLOT: FoTL started off slowly. I put it down a few times, but I would recommend you to keep at it until Xifeng reaches the capital because THAT’S WHEN IT REALLY PICKS UP. After she enters the palace, and a world filled with romance, politics, betrayal and making it ahead is when the books really picks up. Xifeng is a classic manipulator, plotter both subtle and effective and it was SO GOOD. I loved how destiny, ancient stories and otherworldly powerful beings played a role in this just as much as the Emperor, Empress and other members of the palace. It was SO WELL plotted out, and I’m so excited for the second book. CHARACTERS: I initially didn’t get Xifeng. She seemed to be this oh-so-beautiful girl who wanted to be good and pious but was secretly conspiring to achieve a foretold destiny that would involve her being the OPPOSITE of good and pious. But then, as she accepted that the girl she was trying to be couldn’t exist in the life she wanted to make, I FELL IN LOVE WITH HER. She was ruthless, unafraid to get what she wanted and yet cared so deep. She didn’t want to be just another name forgotten by the sands of time and I RESPECT THAT SO MUCH. I especially loved the ending of her story because GO ANTI HEROINES. Since the whole story was told from Xifeng’s point of view, I didn’t get to know the other characters much but they were ALL stunning secondary characters. I liked Lady Sun’s evil machinations, the Empress and her kind heart and Emperor Jun’s ability to see both brains and beauty. I didn’t like Wei, but then I always knew I wouldn’t. CONCLUSION: If you’re looking for that unpredictable, diverse and dark fantasy book, go throw this book to the TOP of your TBRs and Wish lists. Forest of A Thousand Lanterns will have you spell bound with its intense writing, captivated by its ruthless main character and in love with the world you’ve been transported to.
Date published: 2017-10-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Retelling You Won't Expect Let me tell you: I love me some dark and horrific retellings of classic stories/fairytales and this novel was an example of how it can be done well. However, let me warn you, if you are expecting this to be a 'light and cheery' retelling of a fairytale, think again. I LOVED how dark this novel got (is that weird?) because it added on an element of horror which I think definitely added to the story. I don't want to give you too much detail about how the story is retold as I went into this blind and thought that was the best way. It allowed me to anticipate what was to come instead of being able to predict what would happen. But, I will give you something: it's an East Asian retelling of The Evil Queen (think Snow White). That's it...that's all I'm giving you. I have to admit the initial introductory chapters and first half of the novel had its slow moments that had me wondering if I was going to like this novel, but I also understand that there was a lot of things going on that had to be introduced. A whole world, characters, and different story lines all had to be introduced. But with that being said, the last half/last quarter of the novel......makes up for those slow moments! I wasn't able to put the book down because even if I had a small prediction of what was going to happen (based on the classic story) I didn't have any confirmation if that was actually going to happen or HOW it would unfold. The first half may have been slow but it was a speedy last half of the novel because it was so action packed. Overall, not only do I think this is a wonderful debut for Julie C. Dao, but I also think this is an amazing initial novel to a series. I cannot wait to read more! I have so many unanswered questions (...Wei?! Crown Prince?!). I want more. I'm really interested to see how this story will progress as well as seeing how this series compares/contrasts to the original story of the Evil Queen. This is definitely worth the read for anyone, but especially for those who like to see a classic retold in a refreshingly, unique way. ***Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review***
Date published: 2017-10-08

Read from the Book

Chapter 1   The procession stretched down the cobblestone road, a serpent made of men in red and gold, the Emperor’s colors. They marched forward, ignoring the slack-jawed townspeople gaping at the banner they carried: a dragon with a forest curled within its talon, the emblem of the royal house. A palanquin draped in scarlet silk appeared, resting on the shoulders of four men. People craned their necks to see the occu­pant, but caught only a tantalizing glimpse through the swaying curtain: blood-red lips, golden blossoms in shining hair, and robes that cost more than any of them would see in a lifetime. “Another day, another concubine.” A bent old woman bared the three teeth she had left. “It seems he has a taste for pretty village girls. May blessings rain down upon him,” she added hastily, in case a soldier heard her criticize their sovereign. “He must not discriminate by class when it comes to beauty,” another woman agreed. She was not as old as the first, but she was just as bent. Most of her weight rested on her good leg, while the other hung crookedly, like a dead branch. Her shrewd gaze moved from the pro­cession to the girl beside her.She was not the only one looking at this girl. More than one soldier admired her as he marched by.The girl wore tattered, faded clothing like everyone else. But she had a face like a painting: a perfect oval, with lotus lips blooming beneath a sweet stem of a nose. She appeared docile, virginal, but the eyes she lifted told a different story with their sparkle of intelligence. They were the kind of eyes that flashed from the shadows of a darkened room.“He must not discriminate,” the woman said again. “What do you say to that, Xifeng?”“I wish the Emperor joy, Guma. She must be special indeed if he chose her for his own,” the girl said respectfully, even as her coal-black eyes burned.At the palace, slaves would bathe the young concubine’s feet in orange flower water. Every inch of her would smell like jasmine, and when the Emperor put his lips on her skin, he would know nothing of her hardship and poverty—the same hardship and poverty that coated Xifeng like sweat.“She is no more special than you.” There was no love in Guma’s statement, just fact. But they were mere words, ones she had said for years. She shuffled closer and hooked a claw-like hand around Xifeng’s elbow. “Come. It may be silks and riches for her, but it’s back to the needles for us. Tonight, we will read the cards again,” she added as gently as she ever could.Xifeng knew these rare glimpses of kindness from her aunt could be swept away the next minute by a dark mood. So she inclined her head in a show of grateful obedience, picking up the basket containing their meager purchases, and the pair trudged back home.They lived a short distance from the center of town—rather a grand term for a muddy square. There, ragged farmers and crones with more brains than teeth hawked wares that had seen better days: maggoty vegetables, cracked pottery, dull knives, and cheap hemp fabric.It had rained the night before, a torrential downpour of early spring that would be good for the rice and crops but had turned all else into a pungent soup of mud and debris. A few scrawny chickens ran by, a trail of droppings streaking behind them, as a woman emerged from a soggy cottage to scream at her brats.Some days, Xifeng thought she would gladly watch this town burn. She ached to leave it all behind and never look back. To think she was trapped here forever, while the Imperial palanquin carried that other girl straight into the Emperor’s swan-feathered bed.She felt Guma’s sharp eyes on her and took care to keep her face neutral. To show discontent was to rebuke her aunt for all the sacrifices she had made. After all, Guma had not been required to raise the bas­tard daughter of a sister who had shamed their family and killed herself. And despite being eighteen, Xifeng knew any small sign of displeasure would earn her a dozen stripes with the bamboo cane. She flinched inwardly, thinking of the scars on her back that had just begun to heal.And then there he was, walking toward them, as though her thoughts had conjured him.Wei. The reason for those scars.His proud, shaven head was turned away, watching the innkeeper across the street argue with a customer. His features were sharper in profile, brutal and beautiful, and the other men gave him a wide berth as he cut through the crowd. With his shoulders like a bull, bare arms that rippled with muscle, and ferocious storm of a gaze, he was the living embodiment of war. But those large, capable hands, which now carried a stack of rusted swords to be repaired—Xifeng knew how gen­tle they could be. She remembered how they had felt on her skin and struggled not to shiver at the memory of it, because Guma’s clever eyes were still watching to see her reaction.“What would you like for supper?” Xifeng kept her voice steady, as though she didn’t know the man approaching them at all.Wei faced forward. He had noticed them now; her skin prickled with his awareness. She wondered if he would say something. He had an idea that because he was physically strong and Guma weak, he could overpower her and free Xifeng from her control forever. But there were different kinds of strength, and provoking Guma to release hers was the last thing they would want.She patted her aunt’s tense arm as though there were no one else dearer to her in the world. “I could make a soup of these prawns. Or I could fry the turnips, if you prefer.”And then the moment passed. Wei walked by without a word. Xifeng reserved her sigh of relief to release later when she was in the kitchen, alone.“Do the prawns,” Guma said calmly. “They’re already beginning to smell.”A few steps more, and they arrived home.Xifeng’s grandparents had once owned the entire building with its handsome dark oak façade and imposing doors carved with a phoenix rising. They had been successful tailors before the war, and Guma and her younger sister, Mingzhu, had grown up here. Xifeng found it more difficult to imagine Guma as a child than to picture the splendor that had long worn off these faded walls.Despite the poor condition of the place, they had managed to rent the downstairs to a couple as a teahouse. Guma and Xifeng lived on the drafty upper floors with Ning, the girl they had hired to help them sew and embroider. She was waiting for them by the door, and though she was fifteen and scrawny, the glance she gave Wei’s hard, retreating back was that of a woman. It was not the first time Xifeng had caught her gawking at him, but she had never seen the girl’s longing so raw and sharp. She could practically feel the waves of lust radiating off her.Xifeng felt something growl deep inside.But before she could do or say anything, Guma released her arm and cracked a vicious slap across Ning’s face. “What are you doing there? I don’t pay you to stand idling and ogling,” she snapped as the girl touched her reddened cheek and sniffled. “Get back upstairs.”Ning turned wet eyes to Xifeng before obeying, and though a note of pity rose up inside Xifeng, she remained silent. She knew that slap had been meant for her, but she had hidden her emotions so well that Guma had to vent her violence on the hired girl, like a teapot with built-up steam. She watched Ning slouch upstairs, both feeling sorry for her and thinking she deserved it if she thought she could steal Wei for herself.But Xifeng’s relief was short-lived. Guma grasped her arm again, pinching hard enough to leave a bruise. Her face had begun to wrin­kle like a rotting pear, making her appear much older than her forty years. “Don’t think I don’t know you want the same thing from him,” she hissed, her sour breath filling Xifeng’s nostrils. “Don’t think I don’t know you still sneak around, no matter how many times I pull out that cane.”Xifeng kept her eyes down, biting the inside of her cheek at the pain of Guma’s fingernails, hatred boiling within her. No matter how hard she worked and how obediently she behaved, she received only scorn and beatings in return.“He’s not good enough for you, do you understand? You deserve better.” And though one hand still gripped Xifeng’s arm, the other gently stroked her cheek.That simple gesture, one a mother might make toward her daughter, dissolved the hatred in an instant. Xifeng leaned into her touch, forget­ting the pain.“Now help me upstairs, child.”The upper level had always seemed an endless labyrinth to Xifeng, even now as a grown woman. Once, these chambers had been full of purpose. Dried flowers still littered the floor of one room, where years ago they had hung from the rafters above vats of boiling water, ready to be made into fabric dyes. Across the hall, wisps of thread still clung to abandoned looms, unwilling to relinquish the past. The large room at the back had housed an army of hired girls, whose quick, clever hands had embroidered endless lengths of silk for noblewomen.But those days were long gone. Nowadays, they used only four rooms: two for sleeping, one for cooking, and one for eating and sew­ing. She led Guma to a stool in this last room, where Ning sulked and hemmed a square of cotton with blue-dyed thread.“Mind your stitches,” Xifeng told her, earning a baleful glare.Ning had come from one of the coastal villages, reeking of fish and poverty. Guma had hired her when she saw what she could do with a needle. Since then, the girl had become Xifeng’s shadow, the irritating younger sister she’d never had. Ning followed her, asking questions and imitating her movements, the way she spoke, and the style in which she arranged her hair. But there was a sense of competition, too, and Xifeng suspected the girl’s interests had shifted from trying to impress Guma to making Wei look at her the way he looked at Xifeng.Ning darted a frightened glance at her, and Xifeng realized she had been staring. She turned away, draping a length of pale pink silk over Guma’s lap.For weeks, they had been embroidering plum blossoms all over the fabric. Her aunt had sneered at the choice of color and design, which belied the humble origins of the lady who had commissioned the tunic for a banquet. Truly well-bred women preferred silks dyed darker col­ors, which cost more. But Xifeng thought wistfully that she would wear the cheapest of silks if it meant she too could enjoy herself at some festival.“Go prepare the meal, and don’t be long about it,” Guma told her crossly. “We need to finish this in two days, and you’ve wasted too much time gawking at the new concubine.”Xifeng held her tongue at this injustice. It was Guma who had want­ed to wait for the procession on this chilly spring morning, so she could compare her niece with the new addition to the Imperial harem.“Was she beautiful?” Ning asked timidly.“Of course,” Guma snapped, though she hadn’t seen any more of the woman than anyone else. “Do you think the Emperor would choose an ugly girl like you to bear his children?”Xifeng turned to hide her smile and carried the basket down the hall. Guma was right. Wei would never look at such a plain, moon-faced girl. Not when he had her. But Ning didn’t choose to look the way she does, Xifeng thought, with another twinge of pity. Any more than I did. She put a pot of water on to boil, gazing at her own reflection.She had seen that face every day for eighteen years in the wash­basin. She never needed to open her mouth. She never needed to do much. All it took was stepping out with that face, and she would get a wink from the innkeeper, the best cut of meat from the butcher, and a pretty bead or two from the tradesmen in the square. One of them had even given her a pomegranate once. Wei had been furious when she told him, and would have made her throw it away if she hadn’t already brought it home to Guma.“I don’t ask for these things,” she had protested, comparing it to his natural-born talent for metalworking. The town craftsman had hired him because he could shape a beautiful sword from the ugliest bronze. But still, Wei had been gruff and grim and unwilling to understand.Perhaps the Emperor’s new concubine had been born with a face like hers. Lovelier, even, since it had won her a home in the Imperial Palace.The water began to boil, and Xifeng turned away bitterly to sea­son the prawns. She sliced the last of the ginger and scallions, hoping their client would be satisfied with the pink silk and pay immediately. They couldn’t afford more vegetables until then, and eating plain rice—something they’d had to do many times in the past—always put Guma in a fearsome temper.Xifeng carried the meal into the front room. They ate in peace, inter­rupted only once by Guma criticizing how she had cooked the prawns, and then worked until the sun went down.She recited poetry as she worked, something Guma always required her to do. Her aunt had drummed into her head that poetry, calligraphy, and music marked a well-born lady, and so she had endured many a sleepless night to study. She would have resented it, had it not proven that Guma wanted and expected a better life for her. The moon shines down upon us, beloved The water a vast and eternal mirror A voice whispers from every tender branch Turn your face from the world’s apple-blossom fragility And embrace this boundless night   Guma paused in the midst of stitching a plum blossom petal, her nostrils flaring. “Where did you learn that?” she demanded.“From one of your volumes.” Xifeng gestured to a dusty stack of fad­ed texts in the corner, the meager remnants of her mother and aunt’s school days. She often marveled at the wealth her grandparents had possessed, to have afforded such things for mere daughters.“Show it to me.”The tone of her aunt’s voice made her put down the needle immedi­ately. Xifeng located the volume, one thinner and newer than the rest, and presented it to the older woman. Guma examined it, lips thinning as she ran her fingers over the unembellished back and turned it over to look at the title: Poems of Love and Devotion.She hastily shoved the book back at Xifeng, as though it had burned her fingers. “Ning, isn’t it time you went to bed?”Xifeng kept looking at her aunt as the girl put away her work and lit the red tallow candles. She hadn’t realized the sun had set until she felt the candlelight relieve her strained eyes. As soon as Ning was gone, she asked, “Did the poem remind you of something, Guma?”Her aunt spoke often about the past—mostly to complain about the riches she had then that she didn’t have now—but rarely men­tioned her sister. All Xifeng knew of her mother was what she had been told only once: that Mingzhu had been beautiful and brainless and had gotten herself pregnant and abandoned by a nobleman. The pinched expression on Guma’s face suggested she was thinking of her now, but when she spoke, it had nothing to do with her.“I know that poem. It was . . . told to me many years ago.” She licked her dry lips, her gaze flickering from the text to her niece with some­thing like terror.Xifeng had seen that fear twice in her life: once, when Guma had hobbled home in a frenzy to shut all of the doors and windows without explanation, and again after she had woken from a nightmare of spiral­ing black snakes.There was a long silence.“It’s time to read the cards,” Guma said.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Forest of a Thousand Lanterns:A Junior Library Guild SelectionA New York Public Library - Best Book for Teens 2017"A richly developed fantasy world coupled with an ambitious anti-heroine of complex agency, this story shines and surprises at every turn. Julie C. Dao is a talent to watch."—Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Young Elites★ "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. Xifeng is . . . richly drawn, complicated, and, at times, vulnerable; her relentless pursuit of power a welcome contrast to princesses of the past who seldom had the confidence or strength to determine their own destinies."—Booklist, starred review★ "Lushly written . . . The demons [Xifeng] 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. A fascinating examination of destiny, responsibility, and how choices shape a person."—Publishers Weekly, starred review"Rich in detail and full of gore and blood, this dark novel will satisfy ‘Game of Thrones’ fans."—School Library Journal“A stunning reimagining of the Evil Queen. Filled with treacherous courtesans, dark magic, terrible choices, and bloody hearts, Julie Dao’s exquisite take on this classic villain rises far above the average retelling.”—Stephanie Garber, New York Times bestselling author of Caraval "Dark, lush, and intense, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns draws you into a world filled with mystery and intrigue, led by a heroine determined to grasp her destiny. A stunning debut!"—Cindy Pon, author of WANT and Serpentine“An enchanting debut with a powerful and ambitious lead. Vivid and seductive, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is one of the best debuts of the year.”—Zoraida Córdova, award-winning author of Labyrinth Lost"Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is dark and seductive; beware, this tale will draw you deeper into the forest than you want to go. Disturbingly good."—Stacey Lee, award-winning author of Outrun the Moon“Magnetic, seductive, and alluring, Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a lush, captivating read about desire and the lengths to which we will go to find our true destiny.”—S. Jae-Jones, New York Times bestselling author of Wintersong"Beautiful, lush, and stunningly intricate, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is this year's must-read fantasy!"—Sandhya Menon, New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi"Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a stunning debut, a sort of inside-out fairy tale where beauty is a weapon, ambition is armor, and the empire is the battlefield. Xifeng doesn't ask for what she wants—she takes it. This book is dangerous; you should read it."—Jodi Meadows, New York Times bestselling coauthor of My Lady Jane"Searing and intense, Dao's debut is an outstanding character exploration of fairytales' most enduring and enigmatic characters: the Evil Queen. Equal parts lush and devastating, this is a tale that will grab you by the throat."—Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen "Julie C. Dao's Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is delicious, addicting, and breathtaking; a book you fall into from the first page to the last. Her rich world is thick with wonder, intrigue, and delightful darkness. Readers will root for Xifeng no matter the choices she must make; we want her to win."—Dhonielle Clayton, author of The Belles and the Tiny Pretty Things series"Readers will appreciate the sweeping fantasy saga lifted from East Asian dynasties and endearing characters that are beautifully rendered."—Kirkus Reviews"Readers will be drawn into the lush, fully realized world of Feng Lu and be intrigued by the sinister forces that awaken within and around Xifeng."—BCCB “This captivating, enchanting YA fantasy revolves around an anti-hero's journey and is nearly impossible to set down.”—Buzzfeed   “Julie C. Dao has created a dark, East Asian, fantasy fairy tale that will completely captivate you…a lush twist on the Evil Queen origin story from Snow White, and thankfully it's just book one of Dao's series.”—Bustle   “A beautiful teenager with a royal destiny is haunted by dark magic in this East Asian fairy tale, a debut novel that offers a rich retake on the origin story of Snow White's evil queen.”—io9   “Julie C. Dao’s lush debut Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a dark fairy tale that explores the divide between fate and choice…magic, love, destiny and the lure of power all plays roles in Xifeng’s journey, inspired by that of the evil queen in Snow White and buttressed by the detailed scene-building in ancient Asia.”—The Austin American-Statesman   “A beautiful, lush, dark fantasy YA novel…breathing freely with a haunting Brothers Grimm severity and the magical mystery of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books.”—SyFy   “If you’ve ever read a story, watched a movie, or played a game where the protagonist struggles with their dark side and secretly rooted for them to give into evil’s seductive call, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is absolutely the novel for you.”—Newsweek’s Player One   “Fantasy (and Disney) fans rejoice! Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an East-Asian reimagining of the Evil Queen from Snow White. It’s filled with everything a dark fairy tale needs: deception, dark magic, and bloody hearts.”—Hello Giggles   “Listen up, fantasy addicts: Get ready to dive headfirst into a gorgeous, dark, and mysterious new world.”—PureWow   “Spellbinding…This novel is sure to be a hit with lovers of dark fairytales and anti-heroines."—Bookish   “This is a book filled with turmoil and drama that will leave you wanting more…with wonderfully descriptive writing and prose worthy of a movie, this is one book that you’ll want to check out.”—RT Book Reviews