Book Two of the Ash Mistry series
By Sarwat Chadda
Available now from Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic)
I was super excited when I heard about Sarwat Chadda's debut novel; unfortunately, I found it disappointing. However, I heard so many good things about his Ash Mistry series that I had to give it a try. The first book got me hooked, with a fun take on Indian mythology and a central sibling relationship.
(I'm going to try to be vague about the events of the first book in this review.)
The second book, THE CITY OF DEATH, starts out with Ash having returned home to England and going back to school. His adventures have left him fitter (due to a great excess of energy) and more confident, but that's not enough to solve his bullying problem. In fact, it's worse in some ways, because if Ash fought back he could kill another kid - and he doesn't want that on his conscience. Ash thinks he has his new abilities under control, but he really doesn't.
Soon enough he's caught up in another adventure, and once more headed to England. There's been another tragedy in his life, which leaves Ash feeling guilty and determined to right things. But some things cannot be changed, as Ash must learn. The Ash Mistry books are middle grade, but I think they're aimed more at the ten and up crowd. They deal quite a bit with the realities of death, including grief, culpability, and empathy. Ash's adventures are changing him, and if he's not careful, they could turn him into a monster like Lord Savage.
I loved Parvati's role in THE CITY OF DEATH. She's a half-rakshasa (demon), half-human warrior that helped protect Ash during the first book, THE SAVAGE FORTRESS. She and Ash are becoming closer, but he keeps putting his foot in his mouth when it comes to her heritage. And I loved the way THE CITY OF DEATH made the rakshasa more complicated. They aren't human and they don't feel emotions like humans, but it's still not meaningless when they die. They are living, thinking beings capable of forming connections. They don't always agree with each other and can take opposite sides in a fight. At the same time, they are very dangerous to humans. Ash has to make difficult decisions when he fights the rakshasa, even if it doesn't seem that way at first.
I really enjoyed THE CITY OF DEATH. There's lots of adventure and action, the kind filled with magic and crazy puzzles and sudden betrayals and secret plans. Underneath the fun is an exploration of morality and mortality. I think the Ash Mistry series will especially appeal to readers looking for something similar to Percy Jackson, with a modern take on mythology. THE SAVAGE FORTRESS and THE CITY OF DEATH have much of the same appeal, but their different source material keeps them from feeling like any sort of imitation.
For those participating in Diversiverse this year (November 15-17), this book and its predecessor would be excellent reading choices.