Forest of Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
This was a beautiful retelling of the rise of the Evil Queen from the Snow White fairy tale. With each decision Xifeng, our main character, makes, you see her sinking deeper and deeper into the evilness trapped within her. She starts as a young, beautiful beauty- and fate- obsessed village girl who leaves her village intent on fulfilling her destiny, and escaping an abusive home life. With each leg of her journey she makes new friends, but they cannot sway her from her driving desire to complete her promised fate, and she routinely ignores each wholesome piece of advice they give her. When Xifeng starts making bold statements and taking risks, she surprises herself. But with each command she becomes more accustomed to tricking others to get her own way, and feels validated as each step brings her closer to her ultimate goal. By the end of the novel, there is nothing she won’t do to achieve her fate.
Readers are give a great history of Xifeng's obsession with hearts (as everyone knows the Evil Queen’s obsession with capturing those). Dao writes a unique and believable backstory of how the dark magic is within Xifeng and stems from her family. Her aunt's entanglement with magic has shaped Xifeng's ambitious, proud nature and obsession with her future.
I was a little confused by Xifeng’s brief interlude with the tengaru, who didn't seem to play a large part of the plot and were the only other magical characters in the story not previously associated with Xifeng. They gave us quite a bit of foreshadowing, but were barely mentioned again.
A spiraling dark main character making believable and justifiable choices to gain exactly what she wants. Xifeng knows that each decision she makes will bring her closer to her goal and willingly sacrifices more and more in pursuit of her promised destiny.
I devoured the novel all in a day, feeling iffy about my own connection with morality by the end. Highly recommend.
Would you have made the same choices of Xifeng? Did her actions bother you or were you happy to see her go after what she wants?