Game of Stars. Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond 2 by Sayantani DasGupta. Scholastic, 2019.
New Jersey middle schooler Kiran – aka Princess Kiranmala of the Kingdom Beyond – returns in the second volume of the series that began with The Serpent’s Secret. This is another one that I read first on my own and then listened to with my daughter, who is very much interested in anything with that Rick Riordan, modern-day kids interacting with mythology feel.
Kiran has been home wondering why her friends from the Kingdom Beyond haven’t been contacting her, and bothered by nightmares of her friend Neel’s mother, the Demon Queen. Then, she finds out that it isn’t a nightmare – the Demon Queen really wants her help. Neel has been taken captive to be used as target for a new reality TV show, “Who Wants to Be a Demon Slayer,” which also turns out to be using a stylized but recognizable picture of Kiran herself as its mascot. Of course her parents forbid it – but Kiran still finds herself headed through space in a golf cart-like auto rickshaw, accompanied by an extremely chipper newcomer to her school, Naya, who just might have secrets of her own.
Once there, Kiran finds that things are not as she expects. Neel’s brother, Prince Lal, isn’t the ally she expects, and her cousin Mati, who spent most of book one transformed into an inanimate sphere alongside Lal, is now the leader of an all-girl protest gang that zips around on skateboards wearing pink saris. They are protesting the fact that rakkosh of all ages are being rounded up to be slaughtered by would-be demon slayers, whether or not they’ve done anything wrong.
There are still lots of elements from traditional Bengal folk tales here, including giant messenger birds Bengomi and Bengoma, in a fast-moving plot with both tense and silly moments. But there are also thoughts on deeper issues here, including colorism (skewered here in ads and explained more fully in the afterward) and a call to judge people by their actions over their exteriors.
I had first read this series in print on my own and then listened to it (on hoopla) with my daughter. It’s read by the author, who used extra-animated expression and shorter phrasings that would probably work well reading aloud to a crowd but felt a little over-the-top as an audiobook. Still, especially when reading for kids, over-expressions is much, much better than the flat reading more often given by authors I’ve heard reading their own work.
This is a series that both my daughter and I are enjoying and that I’m happy to continue to readers looking for Rick Riordan read-alikes.