I read Forest of a Thousand Lanterns recently because I am always in the mood for an Evil Queen story. So I was a little surprised by how much I disliked Xifeng and not in a hate to love way either. Or even in a well obviously she’s going to be the evil Queen way.
I think it’s a fine line to walk with unlikeable characters Evil Queen or not. But I have some ideas on what works and what, for me, didn’t work for this particular would be Evil Queen.
I did not like the “creature” element in Xifeng’s story, the dark magic or that she was really just the play thing of a dark God or whatever. I’m not saying that it couldn’t have worked but even by the end when she started embracing her darkness I still feel like it was excusing her.
I’ve seen reviews describe Xifeng as a complex antiheroine and… I just don’t see it. Especially not when she’s being driven by a Dark God.
I fear that excuse may be used to save her in book two. (And if I read book 2 it would really be just to make sure she gets hers.) It made things to easy for her and it gave her an out. Even little things like, oh, the crown Prince doesn’t really want to rule so it’s cool if we just send him off to his death…
His fate is up in the air but I really hope he comes back leading an army against her ass and his awful stepfather.
The “Love” Story
A few Evil Queens have sacrifice and lost love at their hearts but oh, man I hated this so-called “love” story. I didn’t buy it in the least and thought Wei really just needed to run away. Because she knows from the beginning that she’s going to have to lose him and the only time she seems the least bit sorry about that is when she realizes she’s going to have to lose how much he loves her.
She manipulates and uses him then abandons him and it felt like it was really no hard choice for her. (Though I will give points that they were actually having an intimate relationship.) So yeah, didn’t buy the love story in the least.
The Beauty Factor
You pretty much have to have this in a Snow White/Evil Queen retelling but I think with Xifeng it goes into eye rolling territory. I think this works better visually where we can see it with our own two eyes. George R.R. Martin does this well with Cersei though. We see and hear about her beauty in several different ways through several different POV’s. And by the time we do get to her POV we’re also hearing that beauty is fading out due to drink and such.
With Xifeng she’s staring at herself and waxing poetic about her beauty or eating bunny hearts cause gasp! There’s a scar on that perfect face! To be fair she knows her power and is going to use it but coming constantly and in large part from the character it got eye-rolling.
What the World Makes Us
I’m 50/50 on this being a worthy excuse for Xifeng. All of this was put in her head by her childhood abuser and those are hard things to break. Yet by confirming the dark magic/God thing we (and Xifeng) see that the abuser was right.
And while there’s a feint to being a powerless woman by that point I wasn’t feeling it with Xifeng either. Everything seemed to work out for her (in large part because… magic.)
I felt that idea was better played out with the Empress herself- who was actually the blood heir to the throne but her parents picked a husband because they didn’t think she could rule on her own and then her dying husband picked another who turned out to be a real piece of shit.
Like the King in Heartless was an ass who didn’t care about Catherine but I still felt bad for him at the end. The Emperor can go die in a ditch for all I care.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has interesting secondary characters; the Empresses and the other two concubines, the crown Prince and while I didn’t like how it was used the magic and the mythology was interesting as well. Dao’s writing is strong throughout and I think she and the book do hit their stride at the end. The stuff with the Empress actually made me tear up.
But it took to long to get going and I hated Xifeng and not in an awesome Evil Queen way. I guess I need more from my unlikeable characters. However by the end I was interested in reading the second book but I think I’m going to look for spoilers because if Dao redeems her in anyway, or worse, spares her I’ll be furious.
Recommend: 50/50 I suppose it really comes down to how your Evil Queens 🙂