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Literature / Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

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Once upon a time, there was a peasant girl whose beauty enraptured the Emperor of Feng Lu. He whisked her away from the poverty of her hometown, into a life of luxury and ease in the royal harem. She who had never known anything but dust and exhaustion now saw her wildest dreams fulfilled.

This is not her story. This is the story of one who watched her leave, burning with envy. This is the story of Xifeng- scarred, bitter Xifeng, who would do anything to gain a crown.

Even kill.

This is not the story of a heroine. This is the story of the Evil Empress.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a YA novel by Julie Dao, released in 2017.


This book includes the following tropes:

  • The Ageless: What Xifeng eventually becomes after eating hearts to maintain her beauty. Nearly two decades later, she looks just as young as when she first became empress.
  • The Alcoholic: What Ladg Meng becomes after being deposed.
  • Alpha Bitch: Lady Sun, the emperor's most favored concubine and takes great delight in tormenting Xifeng.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Xifeng's ambition to become Empress drives her to become a Villain Protagonist.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Played straight at first with the kind if vain Xifeng in contrast to her ugly aunt Guma. This becomes subverted as she increasingly loses her goodness.
  • Blood Magic: What runs in Xifeng's family and allows her to heal injuries by consuming the hearts of living creatures.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Lady Sun at first sees Xifeng as a commoner she can torment. She doesn't realize just how ruthless and cruel Xifeng can be and is eventually killed off.
  • Cassandra Truth: Xifeng guiltily enjoys sadistic fantasies of murdering her romantic rival, despite knowing they are morally wrong. When she confides in Wei about them, he assumes it's just bog-standard jealousy that she shouldn't worry about. (Partly justified by the fact that the primitive society they live in barely understands mental illness, much less 'a God of Evil is trying to corrupt people's souls'.)
  • Also happens in the case of Empress Lihua, who accuses Xifeng of poisoning her. No one believes her because of the guards who keep careful watch of her. Yet Kang has been doing so for Xifeng.
  • The Chosen One: Villainous example. The cards say Xifeng is destined to greatness, leading her to become the ruthless Empress.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Wei, who becomes jealous when a seller gave Xifeng a pomegranate for being beautiful. He would've made her throw it away, despite them being poor with little food, if she hadn't already given it to her aunt. He puts an arm around her to show “his ownership” when they're around a campfire with other men.
  • The Dragon: Kang acts as this to Xifeng and kills on her behalf.
  • Deal with the Devil: It turns out Guma had traded her soul to the wicked Serpent God in exchange for his teachings, leaving her trapped in his hold forever.
  • Driven by Envy: Secretly in love, Lady Meng has constantly shown jealousy of Xifeng's friendliness with the crown prince. After being rid of, Lady Meng attacks Xifeng in a drunken fury and screams that she's the emperor's new whore.
  • Fairest of Them All: Xifeng is determined to be the most beautiful, as her face is what she sees as her weapon, and eliminates any woman she views as a threat.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Since the book is an origin story for the evil empress of Snow White, the reader knows from the beginning that Xifeng will be a villain.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: It's inspired by Snow White, explaining how the Evil Empress became the way she is.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Xifeng, who goes from a peasant girl to a ruthless empress who cuts out her rivals' hearts.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Part of what drives Xifeng's journey to villain is her envy of other beautiful concubines.
  • Love Makes You Stupid: Wei ignores Xifeng's (entirely justified) concerns about her morality mostly because he loves her.
  • Magic Mirror: As expected in a fairytale retelling. Takes the form of a hidden hot spring which Xifeng uses for her magic and to hide victims in.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Xifeng who wields her beauty as an advantage in her rise to empress.
  • Human Disguise: Kang, the dark servant of the Serpent God, disguised himself as an unassuming eunuch to help Xifeng.
  • Loving a Shadow: Wei at first only sees Xifeng as the sweet girl he knew from childhood, attributing her wicked actions to her evil aunt, rather than realizing the true her is becoming more villainous.
  • More than Mind Control: The Serpent God is responsible for the sadistic fantasies that Xifeng occasionally has- nothing else. It did not make her travel to the Imperial City or kill her court rivals, something it explicitly spells out during the finale.
  • Power at a Price: Xifeng loses more and more of her goodness the longer she uses her blood magic.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Xifeng starts the book as a good person, but gradually resorts to things like eating her court rivals' hearts to gain power, all for the purpose of eventually becoming Empress.
  • Property of Love: What Wei thinks is the case with Xifeng. He thinks he can hide her away. She however slips too far out of his reach.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Paranoid of the foretold Fool who will take everything from her, Xifeng becomes increasingly ruthless in eliminating her rivals. Her wickedness is what motivates Jade in the second book on a quest to defeat her.
  • Tragic Villain: It isn't that there's no good in Xifeng. It's just... choked out, over the course of the first book, by her spite. She goes from sweeping her hosts' floor in gratitude to eating people's hearts.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Lady Sun manipulates the dim-witted Lady Meng in her rivalry against Xifeng.
  • Vain Sorceress: Xifeng, who uses magic to heal her beauty when she consumes hearts.
  • Villainous Friendship: Kang and Xifeng. He acts as her friend and confidante, often giving her advice and support on her rise to empress. He also kills rivals for her to eat hearts.

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