✨Age Range: Middle grade
✨Publication Date: 24th March, 2020
✨Publisher: Candlewick Press (US)
✨Format I Read: Kindle e-book
✨Content Warning: Incarceration, bullying and death
A boy on the run. A girl determined to find him. A compelling fantasy looks at issues of privilege, protest, and justice.
All light in Chattana is created by one man — the Governor, who appeared after the Great Fire to bring peace and order to the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights represent freedom, and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them. But when Pong escapes from prison, he realizes that the world outside is no fairer than the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb light, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.
Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.
Characters and Representation in A Wish in the Dark
To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations from this book as I’d not heard a lot of hype around it and didn’t know much about the author. However, I fell in love with it by the time I turned the last page and I’m confident this will make my favourites list this year. The excellent characterisation played a huge role in swaying my mind.
I could relate to Pong and Nok both for different reasons. Nok’s character arc was pure perfection as she was brought up in a position of relative privilege and had to unlearn some of the harmful beliefs she had assimilated because of it. Pong, on the other hand, was misunderstood and a victim of circumstances but proved that he had the capacity to rise above that.
I also really liked the supportive characters, especially Somkit and Father Cham. The bond between Somkit and Pong was wonderfully captured. Even though Father Cham’s role was brief, it was impactful and added a thread of lightheartedness to the story.
Plot and World-Building in A Wish in the Dark
The plot was inspired by Les Misérables but I’m not familiar with the classic, so I had no reference point to compare and contrast. However, I found this to be tightly plotted and edited very well with good pacing and no unnecessary filler scenes. It also provided a good backdrop for the issues and themes this narrative explored.
What stood out for me was the world-building in this book. This was inspired by the author’s Thai heritage, which shone through in every scene and sentence. It was really nice to read about durians, ripe mangoes and Buddhist monks in a fantasy novel.
This book had a unique magic system that was centred around the spectrum of light. It not only appealed to the science nerd in me, but was also the cornerstone of the societal structure in this world. Soontornvat’s genius lay in the fact that she put a clever spin on an elementary concept that would be intuitively understood by everyone.
Writing Style and Themes in A Wish in the Dark
The author’s writing was a joy to read and it spoke to her experience in writing books for children. It contained a great balance of simple yet powerful lines that deeply impacted me. In my opinion, this book was flawless in terms of craft and had excellent characters, plot, world-building, themes and writing style.
Coming to the themes, I loved how the author had the themes deeply ingrained into the framework of the story. The commentary on class and social structure based on a flawed meritocracy was one of the best I’ve read in any book across all age ranges. It was shown wonderfully through the opposing perspectives of Nok and Pong, so the dual POV narrative really made sense in A Wish in the Dark.
It also highlighted the role of family and friendship in a way that celebrated the Asian value system. The adults in this book were very much present, integral to the journey of the main characters and their views added more depth to the themes discussed. My favourite part was the recurring use of food as a comfort when the characters felt overwhelmed or distressed, which made my Asian heart extremely happy to see on paper.
Overall, A Wish in the Dark is was one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read and I believe it to be one of those rare middle grade books that can be enjoyed by readers of any age group. I would highly recommend it to middle grade readers and fans of Les Misérables who are looking for a fresh take on this classic. This book came out just when most countries around the world went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic and it would be very helpful if you could hype this up or support the author in any way you can because it truly deserves every word of praise!
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Bonus: Character Quiz
Have you heard of A Wish in the Dark? Is it on your TBR or do you plan to add it based on this review? Which is your favourite diverse reimagining of a classic book? Let me know in the comments section down below. Hope you are having a magical week, readers from Earth!