Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao (Rise of the Empress #1)
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.
TITLE: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
AUTHOR: Julie C. Dao
LENGTH: 363 pages
AGE: Young Adult
General Vibe: Book1 with Book2
Partial Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
DNF 117 pages in (32%).
I know this is an anti-hero story, setting her up to be the villain of the sequel, but I detested the main character and just couldn't keep going. Her relationship with Wei feels built on nothing but having been near each other. They have no chemistry and it seems like they barely even talk. I like it when characters have good reasons to try and do a bad thing, but this seemed like she's determined to make terrible decisions in order to live up to what her abuser wants, knowing that Guma was abusive. I don't like any of it and I'm stopping.
Partial CW for sexual content (brief), ableism (brief), sexism, misogyny, excrement (brief), fire/fire injury (graphic), blood (graphic), violence (graphic), emotional abuse (graphic), physical abuse (graphic), child abuse (graphic), domestic abuse (graphic), injury detail (graphic), slavery (brief mention), war (backstory), suicide (backstory), animal death (graphic), parental death (backstory), death (graphic).