fantasy · retellings · young adult

Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Author: Julie C. Dao
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Retellings
Series: Rise of the Empress


Summary from Goodreads:

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.

Finally, finally. I had anticipated its release because East Asian fantasies are my ultimate favorite. I had a couple of chances to read it but life happened (as you can tell by this blog’s shortage on posts by me). But I finally did it! I finished the book! It’s so lovely.

Okay, so before this I read Julie Dao’s “Pumpkin Patch Princess,” which is very cute and fun. FOTL is definitely nothing like PPP but I enjoyed it so much. Even though this is an anti-hero story and therefore, dark, as expected, I could not help but think of just how pretty everything in the Feng Lu universe is. Julie Dao knows how to build her worlds. Her descriptive use of words can evoke vivid images to the reader’s mind. I even enjoyed how she described Xifeng’s little village at the beginning. I could almost smell the different odors haha. Then the descriptions at the Imperial palace reminded me of the Chinese period piece movies I enjoy watching!

This is a retelling of Snow White. FOTL takes us through Xifeng’s journey and development into the Evil Queen. This is brilliantly told because, from the beginning, the reader would root for Xifeng, but might be able to see her budding dark ambition at the same time. She is not evil from the get-go. She is beautiful, knowledgeable, and talented. But she is also at war with herself.
(Also this is random but while reading, in my head, I pictured her looking like the actress Gong Li, who is excellent at portraying both simple country girls and empresses!)

I have to now wait (im)patiently for the sequel this October!

“She knew her own worth. She would seize her destiny with all the strength and spirit within her, and bend them all to her will: every man kneeling and every woman overshadowed.”

My Rating: ★★★★★

adventure · historical fiction · retellings

Review: Cleo

Author: Lucy Coats
Publisher: Orchard Books
Genre: Historical Fiction, Retelling

Summary from Goodreads:

Her precious mother is dead – and it isn’t an accident! The young Cleopatra – Pharaoh’s illegitimate daughter – must flee the royal palace at Alexandria or die too. As her evil half-sisters usurp the throne, Cleo finds sanctuary at the sacred temple of Isis, where years later she becomes initiated into the secret Sisters of the Living Knot. But now Isis’s power is failing, Egypt is in danger, and Cleo must prove her loyalty to her goddess by returning to the Alexandria she hates. She must seek out the hidden map which is the key to returning Isis’s power – on pain of death. But will she be able to evade her horrible sisters? And will she find dreamy Khai, the über-hot Librarian boy she met as she fled Alexandria years before? Cleo’s powerful destiny is about to unfold…

Gorgeous and evocative, this captivating new YA novel imagines the life of the teenage Cleopatra before she became the icon we think we know.


I received a free digital copy from the author/publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest feedback.

I wanted to like this book so bad! After all, it’s ancient Egypt and it’s Cleopatra! Unfortunately, all I could settle for is 2.5 stars.

I want to start off by congratulating the author for such a wonderful idea of retelling Cleo’s life. The cover looks awesome and catchy. I also loved all the references to ancient Egypt (and Greece) incorporated in the story – the gods, the pharaoh, even the embalming process! After all, Egyptians are well-known for embalming the dead and mummification. That list located at the end was helpful because Egyptians names and terms weren’t easy to remember.

The characters were a different story. Maybe they were destined to be interesting characters but there was nothing striking about them that would make them unforgettable. Cleo was a bit whiny. Yes, she put a lot of trust into the goddess Iris through her silent pleas for help, she was stubborn and childish. She claimed that she wanted to serve Iris, but when told of what was expected of her, she wasn’t willing. I did like the portrayals of loyalty. It was a very admirable trait for those who wanted to protect Cleo.

The major hurdle for me was the copy I received. It somehow omitted some letters, e.g. finger became nger, the was e, left was ft, and it was harder to read! I would have given up at some point but decided against it since the book deserved a chance and it wasn’t the author’s fault. I hope this gets fixed.

My Rating: ★★ (2.5)