I’m always on the lookout for more books for Percy Jackson fans, especially from non-Western European cultures. Happily, Rick Riordan has started his own imprint to do just this thing – but Scholastic also recently published a book with a similar feel based on Indian mythology. Two in one year, when I hadn’t seen any since Sarwat Chadda’s The Savage Fortress, back in 2013.
Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi. Disney-Hyperion, 2018.
Aru lives in the Atlanta Museum of Ancient Indian Culture, and is often left alone while her mother travels to find more artifacts. She’s settled on fibbing as a way to gain popularity, though this unsurprisingly doesn’t really work. When some of her classmates stop by the museum and don’t believe that the lamp on display is really magical, as in Aru’s stories, she lights it. But lighting it frees an ancient demon and kicks off a freezing plague, so her classmates aren’t awake to appreciate it. She has woken the Sleeper, and is off to stop it, together with the requisite snarky animal side-kick and her sister-of-legend, Mini (who is part Filipina! Hooray!). Unlike Aru, Mini has grown up training to be a Pandava hero. I also found her a much more sympathetic character. Aru, Mini, and sidekick (whose name I neglected to record – oops!) have many exciting and humor-filled adventures, including a journey to Death, finding magical weapons, and visiting a Night Bazaar disguised as a Costco. I liked it about as much as the Rick Riordan books, which is to say that the adventure rushes by so quickly I didn’t have as much time as I liked to get to know the characters, but it feels pitch-perfect for more plot-oriented readers.
The Serpent’s Secret. Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Book 1 by Sayantani DasGupta. Scholastic, 2018.
Kiran in Parsippany, New Jersey, is the daughter of convenience store owners who nevertheless insist that she dress as a “real Indian Princess” every Halloween, even though she doesn’t like princesses and her birthday is on Halloween. But on her twelfth birthday, she comes home from school to find a birthday card and a cut-off note from her mother saying not try to rescue her and her father but to trust the princes. Kiran’s reading of this is interrupted by a rakkhosh, a very large monster of Indian legend, destroying her house. As this is happening, two very cute brothers only a little older than she is show up: bored, sarcastic Neel in blue, handsome and chivalrous if slightly incompetent Lal in red. They take her out of the “2-D” world, and work to rescue her parents (despite the warning) and stop the end of the world. There is also an adorable wisecracking and prophesying bird named Tuntuni, lots of death-defying adventures, a touch of awkward romance, and some thoughts on how much our parents do and don’t make who we are. An afterward goes into the original stories that inspired this tale that draws characters and settings from many of them. This book had a less frenetic pace despite hitting all the key notes to make it work as Riordan read-alike. I’m definitely on board for the sequel and am curious about DasGupta’s older book of straight-up retellings of Bengal mythology, The Demon Slayers.