I am so honored to be among a great list of bloggers promoting A More Diverse Universe ~ Celebrating People of Color in Speculative Fiction. Aarti from Book Lust began organizing this Reading Tour a few months ago and I could not be more proud to be among those participating. Bringing attention to the authors who are in the small group of “people of color published authors” and who write about people of color is a most needed and necessary Reading Tour.
For my diverse reading selection I chose a new young adult series by Sarwat Chadda ~ Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress. Ashoka Mistry is a thirteen year old born to Indian parents growing up in Britain. He is a bit on the chunkier side, feels out of place in Britain because of the color of his skin but also feels out of place in India because of his English ways. The summer of his 13th year, Ash and his sister, Lucky, travel to India to stay with their beloved and revered aunt and uncle over the school holidays.
It only takes two weeks for Ash to become quite bored with the heat, the smells, and the starving people of his India. When his uncle is invited to a dinner party at the palace of Alexander Savage, Ash thinks he will be bored out of his mind but goes along anyways. When he stumbles into a weapons room in a part of the palace that has not been refurbished, Ash believes he has finally come upon something to write home about. Little does he realize that he was walked straight into the weapons room of a centuries-old demon.
What I loved about this book ~ I am not very familiar with the Hindu religion or the culture of India so reading of what life is like in India, including the funeral pyres seen regularly along the Ganges River, was fascinating to me. Chadda does a superb job of interweaving the gods of the Hindu religion without making it sound preachy or persuasive. Ash speaks of his responsibility to look out for his younger sister and the sacrifices required of being the eldest in the Indian culture. I can see my nephews reading this series and loving it ~ Ash is an unlikely hero with a pesky little sister, the plot includes gods, fighting demons, and real-live modern-day bullies, and the characters have lines that make you want to be friends.
I found that Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress reminded me somewhat of the Percy Jackson series ~ the similarity is in the likeable, yet socially awkward boy hero and the portrayal of the many gods, whether it’s the Greek gods of mythology or the Hindu gods. The action-packed novel moves quickly and before the night was over I found I had read the entire book. There were a couple of places I thought a good editor could have made the novel better, mainly in a couple of inconsistencies, but it also may have been I was so engrossed in the story I read some figures wrong.
If you are interested in reading a grand speculative fiction novel for younger teens (that even includes a few lines about Star Trek for those Trekkie fans out there!), then the Ash Mistry series just may be for you…oh yeah, did I mention, this is the first book in a trilogy?!? I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens next in Ash and his sister’s life, especially after their event-filled summer holiday! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the novel, which I also happen to believe is true to most of our lives:
Some souls have been chosen, I don’t know why, to face evil. I’ve met them over the centuries. Some fail, some join the very forces they are meant to oppose, some are victorious. But all of them, all of the them, change the world in profound ways. (p. 166)
About the Author Sarwat Chadda
Sarwat Chadda has lived and travelled throughout the world, from China to Guatemala. He’s been lost in Mongolia, abandoned at a volcano in Nicaragua and hidden up a tree from a rhino in Nepal. Not to mention being detained by Homeland Security in the US and chased around Tibet by the Chinese police. Maybe he just has that sort of face.
Anyway, now he’s trying to settle in one place and stay out of trouble. Hence his new career as a writer. It’s safe, indoors and avoids any form of physical danger.
Throughout his travels, Sarwat has soaked up the myths, legends and cultures of far away places. Now, with the Ash Mistry series, he aims to bring these unfamiliar tales of ten-headed demons and blue-skinned heroes back home and put them beside the exploits of Achilles and Thor. His heroes are Prince Rama and the demon-slaying Kali. Isn’t it about time you met them too?
Thank you Aarti for working to change the world in a most profound way ~ and thank you Sarwat Chadda for writing a book that Indian children can relate to while the children from other cultures can learn more about their friends.
Dear FTC: I purchased this book from my local bookseller.