2017’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is the first volume in Julie C. Dao’s Rise of the Empress series.
Xifeng has been raised from birth to marry Emperor Jun. It is a lofty ambition (very much so given that Xifeng is a poor orphan) but it is not entirely unreasonable. Xifeng’s abusive aunt Guma claims to possess magical powers; she insists that one day Xifeng will be great and powerful. Also, Xifeng is an unparalleled beauty, which should smooth her rise to empress .
Tired of Guma’s beatings, Xifeng flees with Wei, a young soldier who is utterly besotted with Xifeng. Alas for Wei, she is not besotted with Wei. Xifeng has a plan. A plan that involves the emperor.