A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
May introduce readers to Chinese mythology, folklore, and philosophy, especially about the forces of ying, yang, and qi.
Power is meant to be used to protect those without it, and using it for other reasons comes at a heavy price. Everything and everyone has a beginning and an end in a cycle of creation, destruction, and rebirth. Reality is a duality of balance between ying and yang, and truth is two sides of the same coin. We live not just for ourselves but for those we've lost, and we carry their legacies with us always.
Positive Role Models
Teens Lan and Zen both model perseverance and courage. Both want to save the kingdom, but Zen will do so at any cost and Lan doesn't want to have to sacrifice anything or anyone in order to do so. Lan is a better model for teamwork, mostly because Zen spends a lot of time on his own.
All characters except the enemy invaders read as Asian in a fantasy land, with some differences in hair color and skin tone. Men and women are on equal footing politically, socially, and militarily. One warrior character has one hand and ways she adapts her fighting style are mentioned briefly. There's a same-sex romance, and one of the two has a cleft lip. Enemy invaders read as White Europeans without much physical description.
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Violence & Scariness
Fantasy violence includes both close and large-scale fighting with fantasy creatures using magical powers and weapons like arrows, swords, and knives. Blood, light gore, and pain are described in detail. Magic powers are used to torture people. A slap in the face.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Several long kisses briefly described with emotional detail. Sex implied with kissing, undressing, lying on bed, and moving against one another. Penetration implied by asking about pain. No sensitive body parts are mentioned. Good examples of giving consent. A same-sex couple kiss and hold hands. Being a sex worker in the past is implied by memories of pretending to flirt with customers at a teahouse, going with them to private rooms, and being caressed.
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"S--t," "horses--t," "godsdamned," "turd," and "fart."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A teen drinks plum wine, likes it, and shows some tipsy behavior.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Amélie Wen Zhao's Dark Star Burning, Ash Falls White is the second book in the YA fantasy series Song of the Last Kingdom. Reading the first volume, Song of Silver, Flame Like Night, first is recommended to fully understand the characters and their journeys so far. It's based on Chinese mythology, folklore, and philosophy and is about two older teens' quest to rid their world of oppressive invaders. Fantasy violence includes both close and large-scale fighting with fantasy creatures using magical powers and weapons like arrows, swords, and knives. Blood, light gore, and pain are described in detail. Magic powers are used to torture people. Strong language includes "s--t" and "godsdamned." Sex implied with kissing, undressing, lying on bed, and moving against one another. Penetration implied by asking about pain. No sensitive body parts are mentioned. A teen has plum wine and shows some tipsy behavior.
Is It Any Good?
This second volume in a planned series continues nicely on the solid foundation built in the first book. The world of Dark Star Burning, Ash Falls White is well established and author Amélie Wen Zhao does a good job of refreshing the reader's memory while moving things forward. There's also a lot of food for thought about themes of power, how to use it, finding balance in life, and cultural loss when one people invade and suppress another.
Fans of the first book are likely to enjoy this one just as much, although the pacing is a bit uneven. The ending seems to arrive suddenly and happen much more quickly than the building to it for most of the pages. The poignant ending will leave readers wondering where the story can go from here.
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Our Editors Recommend
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Thrilling Books for Teens Who Love Fantasy
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