Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand LanternsTitle: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Publisher: Philomel Books
Review Copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.

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. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: There’s something about retellings of the Evil Queen legend from Snow White that almost always captures the imagination. She’s a fascinating figure — evil, beautiful, and destined to be undone by some sweet girl with a taste for apples. The retelling that haunts me the most is Neil Gaiman’s chilling short story.

I think it’s safe to say that Forest of a Thousand Lanterns has usurped that particular throne. This story, influenced by the culture and history of Imperial China, is beautifully written — fitting for a story about a surpassingly beautiful empress-to-be. It tells the dark path Xifeng must take to rise above her humble origins and become queen.

Of course, that path is not easy. Xifeng struggles to free herself of the evil within her, along with the voice of her abusive aunt who all along has pushed her to pursue her powerful destiny and her conflicted feelings for her love, Wei. She’s a sympathetic figure, torn between her loyalty to the flawed people in her life and her unyielding ambition. As you follow along with her struggles, it’s easy to forget the framework of the story and who she’s meant to become – the Evil Queen from Snow White.

And at other times, it’s not so easy to forget. Xifeng’s ambition means that she regards most women as beneath her in one way or another, and she often does or says things that are cruel and vicious. At the same time, the conniving, backstabbing nature of the imperial court means that no one — except for, like, two men early in the story — comes out looking good. And I don’t know how I feel about one key (super spoilerly) reveal and its implications. This is definitely a tale told from the perspective of a rising villain, and no punches are pulled. At least for me, it’s hard to be comfortable with that.

Finally, I have to mention the worldbuilding. The details and imagery is just gorgeous. Every mention of a meal left me hungry (sugar dusted persimmon cakes! want!). This, along with the hint of the future Snow White storyline, is why I’m looking forward to the sequel. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for that. If you love a good fairy tale reimagining, you’ll want to check this book out.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Author Interview: F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo has been on my radar for a while, and for good reason — it sounds, well, epic. And it turns out, it truly is! (Check out the RIC review here.) In this new YA book, one kickass Bay Area girl and the oh-so-glorious Monkey King are all that stands between humanity and the hordes of monsters that threaten to destroy the world. You definitely want to get this book… and today we welcome author F.C. Yee (@yeebookauthor) to Rich in Color for an interview!


I grew up reading about the Monkey King (shoutout to Laurence Yep!), and I imagine the ol’ rascal was a part of your life growing up as well. How did you settle on a story that brought Chinese mythology into the modern world?
 
The funny thing is, I did not grow up with Monkey King stories. My experience was much more like Genie’s, where I officially encountered him later in my teens. I’d been exposed to a lot of media that drew upon Journey to the West as an influence, but never seen or read any adaptations until the day I decided to sit down and read the translations of the original story.
I knew I wanted to write a story about discovering one’s own inner strength. But I also thought that an entertaining parallel would be the simultaneous discovery of this rich fictional universe by a character who didn’t know it was a part of their (personal) heritage all along. I settled on the portrayal that I did so that people originally unfamiliar with the Monkey King, like I was at one time, could be introduced in a fun way, while readers who would be very familiar with the source material could enjoy watching a surrogate learn the tale for the first time.
 
Sun Wukong is definitely becoming more human (and also more good-looking?) in recent movies. So, uh, did you start out intending Sun Wukong to be hot?
 
Yes. Without question. Full use of artistic license here.
 
Going off of that, can you talk a little bit about how you modernized the other figures of Chinese mythology, like trendy Guanyin with the pixie cut, into the book?
 
While I definitely wanted the humor of Sun Wukong acclimating into modern society in the book’s opening, I knew the joke could get old, especially if repeated through different characters. I decided it would provide a nice contrast against Quentin’s original strangeness and Genie’s further expectations of gods if the subsequent ones she met were already grounded. In the case of Guanyin specifically, it’s meant to show how she’s the most in tune with modern life and expectations, because she’s the one who does the most work on behalf of humanity.
One reader/online friend jokingly called the mythological figures in this book petty, which is absolutely accurate in retrospect, and one of the tools I used to modernize them.


A good chunk of the story is grounded in reality — especially Genie’s family situation and her uber competitive school life. (The competitive Bay Area school part hit a little too close to home for me, yikes.) Did you draw upon your own life for this, step into someone else’s shoes, or a little of both?
 
Both. I thought I grew up in a competitive academic environment in the East Coast, but in retrospect, knowing what some kids go through these days, it wasn’t that bad. I’m not sure what’s to be done about it – a high degree of academic competition might be an efficient method of operating for the system as a whole, but it’s punishing for the individual.
 
So Genie hates boba but loves coffee. Are you the same?
 
I love both boba AND coffee! I gave Genie that quirk regarding boba since it’s such a big part of Bay Area culture and liked the image of young Genie being grumpy that her friends want to keep meeting over a drink she didn’t like.

Is there a sequel on the horizon for The Epic Crush of Genie Lo?

There will be, in 2018.

Perfect… *rubs hands together gleefully* Finally, are there any YA books by/about people of color that you’re looking forward to? 
 
I’m perpetually confused over whether it’s being marketed as YA or not, but I’m looking forward to S.A. Chakraborty’s CITY OF BRASS. I also really want to read FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS by Julie C. Dao.

An awesome list. Thanks for stopping by! To those reading along, do yourself a favor and get a copy of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo ASAP because it’s just that awesome.
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Author Interview: Cindy Pon

Want by Cindy Pon The moment I heard about it, I put Want on my to-read list because, um hello, sci-fi thriller set in Taipei? Yes, please. I’m over the moon this book is out in the world now, and we at Rich in Color will be talking more about Want in August! More on that next week. Today, we welcome Cindy Pon (@cindypon) to Rich in Color to talk about Want, writing, and representation. Check it out!

First off, I have to say that I was beyond excited for Want, a YA set in Taipei, Taiwan! I’ve been there! Ahhh! Ahem, anyway… How did it feel, writing a book set somewhere that’s clearly personal for you? Not to mention in an all-too-plausible near future setting that feels very relevant to current events right now?
 

All my novels are special to me, but WANT especially because it was an ode to my birth city. I really wanted to bring the city alive for readers, I wanted Taipei to be a character in itself. From some reader reactions, I feel like I achieved that for them, and it makes me so happy! As for relevancy, WANT is the novel that took longest from fruition in 2011 to actual publication. Six years is a LONG time, and I began to worry my near-future thriller would be retro-thriller soon enough. ha! Often the reader reactions were that the world felt very believable and real, and that is because I pulled a lot directly from headlines.

One thing I found fascinating was the seamless switching between languages in Want. Different books usually handle this in different ways to varying degrees of success. How did you decide you were going to handle the issue of portraying different languages? 

 

Hmm. It had to make sense but also feel organic and not confusing? I had great beta readers and critique partners, and I relied on them to make comments on points of confusion. I admit I’m a very intuitive writer, so it’s just a matter of does this fit, does it flow, does it make sense? Especially as I’m revising.

I definitely ship Zhou and Daiyu. But another relationship that felt incredibly central to Want was family – the found family of Lingyi, Iris, Victor, Arun, and Zhou. What made you choose this particular cast of characters?

 

Originally, WANT began as a short story in Diverse Energies (Tu Books) and only featured Zhou and Daiyu. I found both of them utterly fascinating, and it was their dynamic and my curiosity over what their stories were that convinced me to flesh the short story into novel length. As for the squad, I wish I could tell you I did tons of brainstorming and character notecards and trawled through countless images online for inspiration, but as with so much of my writing, they just happened. I did know that I needed distinct characters with distinct traits and abilities to offer to the group. That was the first and easiest thing to decide. Then, they basically told me who they were with each revision.

You referenced the movie Lucy in a Diversity in YA post. For me, Want felt like the anti-Lucy, and that’s something we need way more of. What do you hope to see in the future in terms of Asian representation in media?

 
I want movies and shows and media in the west to feature Asians front and center as protagonists and heroes, in all genres, from comedy to drama to speculative fiction. We’ve been shunted aside for far too long as far as representation, and so often, the bits we are given are offensive or stereotypical or completely dispensible. All the whitewashing is becoming tired and ridiculous. Our erasure still in media is very real.

The moment I finished reading Want, I wanted (haha) more. I hear there’s a sequel happening. Can you tell us anything about it?
 
Yes! My fantastic editor offered on RUSE, the WANT sequel, while I was actually in Shanghai for a research trip. So I am hoping to set RUSE in Shanghai. My second books are always dealing with the consequences of what happened in the first novel, and that is what I want to focus on in this one, too. Won’t say much more than that. ha!
 
Want is definitely going on the top of my list of fave Asian YA reads. What are some of yours?
 

Aww, that is such a compliment coming from you. Thank you so much, Jessica! I really love Malinda Lo’s Huntress and her forthcoming thriller A Line in the Dark. I also loved The Reader by Traci Chee, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, ENTER TITLE HERE by Rahul Kanakia, and Julie Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns! So much more to choose from since my Silver Phoenix debut back in 2009!

I imagine people have asked you what your favorite Taiwanese food is. But what I want to know is… What’s your favorite pearl milk tea flavor?

 
hahaha! Coconut milk tea OR barley tea (no milk)!

Finally, what new YA books are on your to-read list this year?

I’m super excited to read The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, Warcross by Marie Lu, Uncanny by David Mcinnis Gill, The Glass Spare by Lauren Destefano, and The Speaker by Traci Chee!

Thanks for stopping by! For those of you reading along, be sure to grab Want for your must-read shelf!


You can find Cindy on Twitter and on her website!

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My Asian YA Lit To-Read List

I keep making to-read lists, and for good reason. There’s just so many promising books coming out this year! It’s a wonderful problem to have. In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, here are my top 3 Asian YA lit books that I’m planning to read this summer:

Want by Cindy Pon
Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary. Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not? Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
Desi Lee knows how carburetors work. She learned CPR at the age of five. As a high school senior, she has never missed a day of school and has never had a B in her entire life. She’s for sure going to Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation-magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends.

So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds her answer in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Rules for True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and fake car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

So that’s my list! What’s on your to-read list for the summer?

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