Title: Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Quartet #1)
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: Middle grade mythological fiction
Published: By Rick Riordan Presents on March 27th, 2018
ISBN13: 9781368012355 (US Hardcover edition)
Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from her latest archaeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?
One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.
But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them.
The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?
I love Rick Riordan’s books and ever since Percy, I’ve been dying for him to incorporate Hindu mythology in his books. When Rick Riordan Presents, the new imprint under Disney Books that prints mythologically inspired stories by OwnVoices authors, was announced and Roshani was chosen to retell the Mahabharata, I was beyond excited! I pre-ordered the book and was highly anticipating its release.
I was blown away by how well this book was crafted. Starting from the characters, I think Aru was a breath of fresh air because mostly in MG books the protagonists are the goody two-shoes kind, especially girls. I liked how Aru’s habit of lying was used throughout the story and how she realised how to use her quick wit and imagination as a weapon. I also adored Aru’s companion and sister-in-arms, Mini, and wish I had a little sister just like her! She was also biracial, which came up during the story and was not just a token representation, which was another aspect I loved. I enjoyed the side characters as well, especially that of the bird, who added much needed comic relief as well as intrigue. The plot followed a formula similar to Rick’s books and as a huge fan of that, I was sucked in from the beginning.
The unique element in this book, however, is how seamlessly it incorporated Hindu mythology into the narrative. As a practising Hindu, who grew up with these stories and view some of the characters as divine entities, I never felt a dissonance between my beliefs and how they were portrayed in this book. I thought that Roshani did a fantastic job of adapting them into a modern narrative while still preserving their essence and doing justice to the source material. She used her imagination to superb effect in reimagining scenes, places and characters from the Mahabharata. She also described some core beliefs of Hinduism such as karma and rebirth in a simple way that is accessible to children.
I’m so grateful that this book exists and kids can see their culture and beliefs represented in bestselling books. I’m even more grateful to Rick Riordan for taking up the initiative to retell mythological stories in a fresh way that will appeal to the new generation. Most of all, I’m grateful to Roshani Chokshi for delivering on all fronts and blowing my expectations for this book out of the water! It was the perfect mix of fun, adventure and learnings with amazing characters and a well-paced plot. I honestly cannot wait for the other books in the series to come out and wrap me up in their magic!
If you have the means to read this book, please do so as soon as possible! If you couldn’t tell, it means so much to me personally and I recommend everyone to at least give it a shot. For the music, some light instrumental Indian classical music, especially with flute or violin, would go really well. There are a million different Indian foods that can go with this book but my recommendation would be the ‘timepass’ snack, kadale puri, made from puffed rice and groundnut with a dash of seasoning, that is famous in my region.
Do you read and enjoy books outside of your age range? Which book represents parts of your identity so well that you’re grateful for its existence? Let me know in the comments section below.