Book Thoughts

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns Book Cover Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Julie C. Dao
Young Adult Fiction
Penguin
October 10, 2017
384

I love a good villain story, and this is an Asian inspired retelling of how Snow White's evil queen came to be. Xifeng has a destiny written in the cards, but it's up to her whether she wants to chase power or love, and how much she's willing to sacrifice for what she wants.

The story is beautifully written, but like most fairy tales it has a dark underbelly: Xifeng's abusive home and manipulative mother. Xifeng's fear of being controlled. The silken perils of the Emperor's court. I admired how Xifeng's choices sometimes felt inconsequential, but every small choice propelled her along one of her two possible destinies.

The book reminded me of the Chinese historical dramas I watched growing up, rife with beauty and court intrigue. And it also brought up some complicated feelings from my own life, about Asian culture and family expectations, about worth, about what constitutes beauty. I'm still mulling it over - and I believe that's the function of all good stories. It connects somehow, and makes you think.

Xifeng's story reminds me how easy it would be to be the villain. Just one choice could change the path we walk forever. Or maybe, some of us are already the villain in other people's tales...

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Book Thoughts

Wintersong Book Cover Wintersong
S. Jae-Jones
Young Adult Fiction
Macmillan
2017-02
368

 

This story is Gothic to the bone: unexpressed passions, strawberries in winter, furniture grown out of roots, clothes stolen from the dead, changelings, underground music, beauty and decay.

Wintersong follows the tale of Elizabeth, spinster elder sister, who is a brilliant composer, but due to both poverty and society, can never be one. But her music has caught the interest of the goblin king, and when he can't have her, he steals away her younger and more beautiful sister. Elizabeth has to save her sister, and then ultimately herself. It's a story about coming to know who you are, imperfect and terrible though that might be.

To be honest, I know this is not a story for everyone, but I loved it anyway. I've always been a fan of Gothic fiction. The haunted and surreal, the pleasure and pain. Like all Gothic tales, it's stuffed full of over the top emotions, but it never felt like it ventured into melodrama. I could relate to the anger of a woman who is  always ignored, and never gets to live her dreams because her life doesn't allow her.

If you enjoy flawed characters struggling to endure, and messy relationships that grow. If you enjoy music or composition, or dark fairy tales, I'd recommend giving this story a try.

P.S. I doubt many teen readers have seen the 1986 Labyrinth movie, which inspired this novel, but that colored reading of the story. The goblin king will always be Bowie to me.

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Book Thoughts

A Crown of Wishes Book Cover A Crown of Wishes
Roshani Chokshi
Fiction
Macmillan
2017
367

This is a fairy tale with teeth.

This book brings us back to the world of The Star-Touched Queen, but follows Maya's sister Gauri, warrior princess. A prisoner of war, she gets swept into an otherworldly game by Vikram, adopted heir to an enemy kingdom.

The premise is simple: win the games or forever be trapped in the otherworld. But what I appreciated most were the characters. Amid a backdrop that is luscious, whimsical, and more dangerous than it appears, we have two characters trying to figure out who they are and what they want most in the world.

Gauri must deal with the repercussions of her past choices and how they impacted the people around her. There's nothing soft about her, she's serious, not very trusting, makes bad decisions, and she makes no apologies for who she is. The story does not change her personality, instead what changes is what she feels and thinks about the world.

Vikram is a lovely contrast. He's so joyful and full of faith. He teases Gauri mercilessly, and uses his brains to solve his problems instead of force (which is Gauri's mode of choice).

While The Star Touched Queen* will forever be one of the books of my heart, A Crown of Wishes is a satisfying story. It has has a warm, hopeful, heart, despite the harness of its characters, and the tasks they are put through.

*And yes, Maya makes a cameo!

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