Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Philomel Books / Penguin Books USA
Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Beautiful Xifeng is destined to be the Empress of Feng Lu, but only if she abandons those she loves and gives into her darker impulses. Escaping her abusive aunt, Xifeng uses her cunning and understanding of magic to make her way to the capital of Feng Lu. Each step along the way is complicated as a dark and powerful force encourages her to become Empress while those around Xifeng to accept another fate, be it less glorious.
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a retelling of Snow White where you simultaneously are rooting for and against the future “Evil Queen”. The tone is that of a legendary tale mixed with a tragedy. The mixture of a Western fairy tale and Eastern myths create a fascinating setting and story. The prose is lush and descriptive while at the same time keeps a steady pace that will make readers want to turn the page to find out what happens next. Xifeng is a clever and angry character who many teens will relate to in the difficult choices she must make to protect those she loves.
This book is for fans of The Lunar Chronicles, The Forbidden Wish, the Once Upon a Time TV Show, and the Snow White and the Huntsman franchise.
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Ellingham Academy is exclusive, secluded, and the scene of a long ago unsolved murder. For mystery buff Stevie Bell transferring to Ellingham is a dream come true. She’s there for one reason – to solve the case. But a tragic death on campus forces her to put her deductive reasoning to the test to discover if one of her new classmates is a murderer. She going to need all of her sleuthing skills because everyone seems to have a motive.
Johnson seamlessly weaves two timelines, each with an identifiable style. Stevie’s narrative is playful, as if daring the reader to take her seriously. The past is atmospheric and almost noir-like. Stevie has a fanatic’s view of murder having been untouched by tragedy while the Ellingham’s story is filled with grief. The timelines stand in stark contrast yet complement each other well.
The large cast of characters are diverse and well developed, including the adults. Stevie is a likeable and believably quirky character whose battle with social anxiety disorder is realistically portrayed through awkward encounters and self-deprecating thoughts. Ellingham Academy itself is so vivid that it serves not just as a setting but as another character.
Fans of atmospheric novels such as In the Shadow of Blackbirds and Out of the Easy will enjoy Truly Devious.
A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
A dark historical fantasy in which a girl named Makepeace is forced to flee her birth father’s ominous family and their strange birthright.
The Felmottes are a powerful aristocratic family harboring a secret so sinister that Makepeace’s mother fled from them as a young woman to protect her unborn child. As a young girl growing up in a Puritanical English village, Makepeace senses ghosts fighting to claw their way into her head but doesn’t understand why. When she finds herself suddenly orphaned and driven half-mad by unknown spirits, she is sent to live with her late father’s family, the Felmottes, at their ancient estate Grizehayes. There, she meets her bastard half-brother, and together they begin hatching plans to escape. However, their plans soon fall awry as the country plunges into a chaos of betrayals that ultimately leads it into a civil war. Makepeace finds herself on her own, fleeing to escape the sinister designs the Felmottes have on her life. She is not entirely alone, however, for she is possessed by the spirit of a great Bear, her greatest ally, who infuses her with the ferocity of spirit to fight for their mutual survival. Along the way, they are joined by others on their mad adventure: a colorful coterie of spies, vengeful spirits, and wayward humans who fight their way into Makepeace’s mind and heart. Makepeace is no mere vessel though, as the Felmottes would like to believe; over the course of the novel she grows into a fierce, compassionate heroine who takes control of her own story.
Brimming with originality, atmospheric imagery, and plenty of intrigue, this historical yarn is part ghost story, part adventure, and part coming-of-age tale. Fans of sophisticated historical fantasy, dark adventure, and strong heroines are sure to devour it on any given dark and spooky night.