355 pages| Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents| MG/Children’s Fantasy/mythology/retelling
I grew up with the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and loved the stories so much that they gave me the initial push to want to get a Classics degree (which is what I am currently doing!), so I was excited to hear his announcement a while ago saying that he was creating an imprint which would focus on retellings of mythology from non-Western cultures. The Aru Shah series (The Pandava Quartet), written by Chokshi is one such book, focusing on Hinduism – something I know little about beyond Year 9 R.E. lessons.
The digest: if you liked the Percy Jackson series then you will most likely enjoy Aru Shah and the End of Time – a retelling of Hindu mythology where 21st Century kids are reincarnated heroes destined to save the world once again.
Due to how short this kid’s book is, the review is deliberately vague as to not spoil anything for you. If you think there is even a slim chance you might enjoy Arus Shah and the End of Time, my advice is to just go for it – the audiobook is only a few hours long and I’m sure you could read the text a lot faster than you expect.
From the book’s Goodread’s page:
“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 archeological 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?”
The story is actually a bit better than I was expecting. We follow Aru and co. on their journey to try and sort out a typically middle-grade world-ending problem; the demon Sleeper has placed people in some form of stasis, and if they can’t undo the damage he has done within a time limit, these people basically die. The plot has a lot of nods to the Mahabharata and is a fair attempt at explaining Hindi mythology to the reader, though personally, I would have enjoyed a greater exploration of the myths at hand. Those already familiar with the stories will no doubt enjoy the story more than I did, and I felt that the first Percy Jackson book did a slightly better job of explaining the storyworld than this book did.
The main characters are all really good fun. We have a variety of what seem to be ‘normal’ human beings mixed in with Hindu gods and demons – there were none that seemed to be lacking a fair level of explanation and exploration, though of course, I wasn’t expecting in-depth character studies in a children’s book. The main protagonists complement each other well and are used to explore different sides of the same coin: always lying to fit in with your peers vs accepting that life isn’t like that; not being too fussed on what could go wrong vs trying to catalogue everything that could kill you. I liked the characters, but there is definitely more space for growth in the future.
The settings are all… well, magical. As we explore the realm of the characters from mythology we find ourselves placed in many un-human settings. We see, for example, a Costco store which doubles as a magical bazaar where one can find any number of spellbound items, or (as the blurb says), elements of the Kingdom of the Dead. This leads into the worldbuilding which is very reminiscent of Riordan’s own stories. In this first Pandava Quartet book, we are introduced to a wealth of magical creature species, demonic forces, magical systems, gods (with a focus on reincarnation), supernatural weapons, and steeds (as shown on the cover). There is a lot of easily accessible content related to Hinduism here, and I can only expect that this book’s sequels will create in their readers a reasonably in-depth knowledge of Hindu mythology.
The not so good
Perhaps the book’s main downside is a lack of originality – it shares a few too many details and plot points with the Percy Jackson series for its own good. Of course, the myths themselves will have similar themes and ideas, but I find it hard to believe that the author absolutely had to include a lightning bolt weapon or a child of death. I also wasn’t too keen on the ‘fetch quest’-esque elements (which also features in the Percy Jackson books), whereby the protagonists must travel to a few different places in order to progress with their mission. I understand that this is an easy way of introducing a lot of new content to the reader, but it is just lazy storytelling and acts as nothing more than a speed bump in an otherwise finely-paced narrative.
I also wasn’t a fan on the nods to Harry Potter and other pop culture references, though this might be due to my age. I know that these things can’t happen in the real world, so I supply my own fictional alternative reality where they are possible – reminding me of pop culture just breaks this sense of immersion for me. Spider-Man PJs are cool and all, and I don’t mind reading about them once, but don’t immediately start talking about them again after killing a demon, please.
3.5/5. This is a solid children’s fantasy book, with a nice focus on how modern times don’t have to adhere to antiquated standards, as well as carrying the important message that you should always be yourself (or else a powerful demonic force will be released and threaten to kill a lot of people!). I’m not sure I’d recommend it to fans of Riordan’s previous works if you read them as a kid unless you have a particular liking for MG books – I found it a bit too simplistic and safe. I won’t be carrying on with the series.
I listened to the audiobook of this novel and can wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone after an easy listening experience.
Have you read Arus Shah and the End of Time? If you did, what did you think of it?