Aru Shah & the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi

Themes

  • Found family, teen angst, self-acceptance, self-identity, modern mythology, prophecy fulfillment
  • Confidence, courage, positive feminine themes, friendship, coming of age

Bhangra is a kind of upbeat music that is often played at Indian weddings. Aru had no idea how to dance to it, but then again, neither did any of the brown uncles at parties. Their favorite bhangra dance technique was to pretend to screw in a lightbulb and pet a dog at the same time. And then start jumping.

The direct sequel to Aru Shah and the End of Time picks up almost immediately after the events of the first book. The characters having only settled back into their lives days after completing their nearly impossible task. They are then witness to a mystical theft for which they are framed. Immediately throwing them into the fray of a much larger conflict, one that creates the over arching impact across the ongoing series.

While the sequel does borrow heavily from plot of the first novel: a diminishing deadline, forced camaraderie with new Pandava incarnations, and the threat of the Sleeper overtaking the world; the novel doesn’t feel like a rehashing of the original. Added this time are the expansion of their inner circle of allies, the focus is heavily on establishing the emotions and relationships between the new and existing characters. Building their individual personalities by exploring their strengths and vulnerabilities, the reader gains a true sense of caring for the characters and by extension their delicate world. We were intrigued by the new host of enemies and allies that beset the group on all sides. Although we have never had any foreknowledge of Indian culture, the author continues to excel at inviting her audience in. This novel stands out from the introductory novel as a continuation of a layered story.

Just like the first novel, we were sucked into the otherworld, getting to spend time with many of the well-known deities. The book is the same length as the first installment, and it seems that may be a consistent feature of the series. The backgrounds and character development are given ample time to be explored as they mature in way that feels natural. The most important elements of the story: Aru’s exploration of her true nature, the Pandavas’ many complicated and strained family ties, and the emotions that correspond to really difficult questions about the people they love, are all handled without heavy layers of exposition or forced scenarios.

As with the first my only criticism lies in the “branding”. Set in present day, the story is laden with heavy product placement (especially Disney- go figure), and pop culture style references that just might be pandering to the parents who are reading more so than the child audience. While Aru herself is a believably awkward preteen with bad jokes, movie scene references, and poor timing; these traits do serve to make her an endearing heroine. The story It is suitable for middle schoolers, further exploring the themes of self-discovery, confidence, and the strength of true family and enduring friendship. Given the seal of approval from Rick Riordan himself, and the positive reception for the series, I believe it’s only a matter of time before we are treated to a movie adaptation.

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