Monday, 17 September 2012

Book Review: Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda

Note: in the US, this book is just called "The Savage Fortress"

When Ashoka (Ash) Mistry and his little sister, Lucky, take their first trip to India to stay with their aunt and uncle, they soon find themselves caught up in a struggle between demons and gods from Hindu mythology.

To be honest, if I hadn't been stuck in the Accident and Emergency Department at my local hospital for three and half hours, I would probably have given up on this book fairly quickly.

There's a particular type of British middle grade fantasy where everything feels generic: generic characters, generic problems, generic settings... You get the picture. There's no emotional engagement, other than on a superficial level, and you can't help but feel that you've read it all before.

In the early chapters, Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress seems to fall into this category. Other than the actual setting, in Varanasi, India this could be dozens of other books.

Luckily (kinda), I was stuck in the hospital, unable to move, with a badly sprained ankle and nothing else to do, and so I kept going.

Which was lucky, because around page eighty, this book suddenly kicks into life, and becomes a fascinating, rich, exciting adventure, full of characters with real problems and real emotions. From that point, the book is relentless, and you won't want to put it down. (It also has probably the highest body count I've read in a middle grade novel.)

That's not to say that there are no problems with the book for an adult reader. The plot developments are predictable and everything is heavily telegraphed. But this is a book for 9-12 year olds, and they certainly won't feel the same way.

It's great to find a middle grade fantasy with non-white protagonists in non-European/American setting, especially one that is as good as this.

Once you get past the slow opening, I highly recommend this book, and I'm looking forward to any sequels.

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