A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark pits literal darkness against light in a unique Asian setting.

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat. Candlewick, 2020, 375 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-14

“The law is the light, and the light shines on the worthy.” That’s the motto of Chattana, inspired and upheld by its Governor. He means it literally, for it was the Governor himself who saved the city after a devastating fire that nearly wiped it off the map. From that time, fire is outlawed. All light comes from the Governor, who has the power to make and sell it. All law comes from the Governor too, and it weighs heavily on the poor. Especially those who end up in prision, even children who are there for the sins of their mother. Pong and his best friend Somkit have never known any other home, but when Pont sees his chance to escape, he takes it.

He can’t truly be free, because his prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive. But fate leads him to a monastery, where wise Father Cham takes him in. If it weren’t for Nok, the prison warden’s daughter who recognized Pong during her family’s visit to the monastery, Pong might have stayed forever. But the threat of arrest means another escape—back to the city, where unrest is brewing into a showdown with the Governor.

Though it includes many familiar fantasy elements, A Wish in the Dark takes place in a unique Asian-inspired world. The monks are Buddhist rather than Christian, but the theme of light vs. dark should resonate with Christians. The governor, as a counterfeit light-bringer, makes himself the law, both arbitrary and harsh. Eventually, though, mercy and forgiveness win out. True light is seen as coming from within, rather than beyond. That might be worth talking about; otherwise, this is a fast-moving, enjoyable fantasy that reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)

Worldview/moral value: 3.5Artistic/literary value: 4Also at Redeemed Reader:

Grace Lin’s fantasy novels, inspired by Chinese folklore, have impressed all of us: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (a Newbery honor book), *When the Sea Turned to Silver (starred review), and Starry River of the Sky.Got a taste for fantasy? See our mega-list, Here Be Dragons.We are participants in the Amazon LLC affiliate program; purchases you make through affiliate links like the one below may earn us a commission. Read more here.

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