Sheth (Shadows of the Sun Dynasty, 2016, etc.) focuses on the exploits of Rama in this second volume of the Sita’s Fire Trilogy.
In the continuation of her retelling of the Ramayana for YA readers, the author recounts the exile of the green-skinned Rama and his powerful wife, Sita, to the forest, away from the civilized lands of the Ayodhyans. The son of King Dasharatha, Rama was meant to ascend to the throne before Dasharatha’s wife, the devious Kaikeyi, engineered that the heir be banished for 14 years. With his new bride and his brother Lakshmana, Rama wanders in the wilderness. It is a time of adventure and growth for the hero: battling his perennial enemies, the blood-drinkers, and encountering wondrous creatures such as the giant Viradha, the vulture king Jatayu, and Shurpanakha, sister of the demon king Ravana. Rama gains the experience he will need if he is ever to fulfill his family’s prophecy: that a man of his line will be the one to finally kill Ravana, the 10-headed king of the blood-drinkers (“Every son of the Sun dynasty since Anaranya felt the burden of those words: would he be the one to do the unimaginable and slay Ravana?”). With Sita by his side, Rama feels prepared to meet any challenge. If he were to lose her, however, his destiny might be forever altered, and this is a fact that has not escaped Ravana’s notice. Accompanied by the delightful full-color illustrations of Johansson, this installment of Sheth’s trilogy replicates the immersive world enjoyed by readers in the previous volume. The author adeptly fleshes these ancient mythological figures into rounded, relatable characters who feel as human as any other in contemporary YA fantasy. Sita, with her complex emotions and conflicted history, is an especially compelling personality, and Sheth gives her ample page time to tell her story in her own words. Whether readers are familiar with the Ramayana—an Indian epic that has been popular throughout South Asia and beyond for centuries—or they are discovering these characters for the first time, the novel delivers time-tested stories playing out against a distinctive fantasy world.
A satisfying installment of a YA adaptation of an ancient Indian epic.