When Xifeng is thrust onto the path of her destiny she is an innocent peasant, her experience limited to the life and politics of her small village - the world beyond is full of beauty, danger, and hidden secrets. Her promised density glitters like a jewel just out of reach, and Xifeng slowly comes to realise that if she wants to be the Empress that she will need to make a choice - the path to glory and power that will cost her dearly, or a life of obscurity living the rest of her life with Wei. Thrust into the glittering world of the Emperor and Empress, Xifeng quickly realises that she has much to learn about life in the palace, and about her own life.
Forest of a thousand lanterns was a delightful find, a journey into a fantasy world that has echoes of Chinese and Japanese history and culture woven together to create a world that is believable and unforgettable. You connect immediately with Xifeng and her story, a story that does not take the expected path, and that has plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked and shocked by turn. It is not often that a character has me ready to shake them and congratulate them by turn - at times you can't help but cheer as Xifeng finds a way to overcome or work around obstacles, but there are also times when you feel like asking her "what are you doing???".
Fantasy novels can be hit and miss, some bury you in details and others push you too far and too fast, but Julie C. Dao paced the story well and found the perfect balance of description and character development to help you visualise the world and the characters without bogging you down in the little details. The end came rather abruptly and did feel a touch rushed, but that could just be because I had enjoyed the book so much and didn't want it to end. There are mature themes in this book, so it is best suited to older teens or mature teens - and highly recommended for adult readers too! While it is only February, Forest of a thousand lanterns is a strong front runner for my best book of the year.
Now comes the impatient wait for the next book in the series to see what happens next for Xifeng and her world.
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