“Only one of the five Pandava brothers could light the lamp. Do you know where he went, human girl?”
Aru lifted her chin. “I lit the lamp.”
The bird stared. And then stared some more.
“Well, then, we might as well let the world end.”
—Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi
It would be an oversimplification to say that twelve-year-old Aru Shah is a liar.
That said, it was lying that got her into this mess.
It’s hard to hear your peers go on and on and on about the fancy places they’re going to visit when you know you’re just going to stay at home…so Aru told the other kids at school that she was going to France. But, due to her less-than-forthright reputation, her classmates—who, let’s be honest, are more about embarrassing her than they are about Making A Point—show up on her doorstep to call her bluff.
One thing leads to another, and before she knows it, Aru tries to save face by doing the one thing she’s always been told NOT to do in Atlanta’s Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture… she lights the cursed lamp in the Hall of the Gods. Suddenly, everyone around her is frozen, she’s only got a few days to save the world, and no, she doesn’t have time to change out of her Spider-Man pajamas.
The one question I’ve been getting again and again and again from patrons about the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint is this: “But will the books read like Percy Jackson???” Based on the way I giggled and gasped my way through Aru Shah and the End of Time, I can finally give them an answer: “Yes, yes, unequivocally, yes.”
Aru Shah has the same blend of comedy and adventure, magic and interpersonal drama, action and heart. It follows the same basic arc, in that a realistically-flawed protagonist learns that she is a demigod—in this case, she learns that her father is Lord Indra, the Hindu god of lightning and thunder—and then has to risk everything to save her mother (and the world). It also shares a lot of the same textual elements: funny chapter headings; tons of pop culture references; smart and creative and again, funny modernizations of ancient figures from religion and myth and legend; entertaining digressions and jokes for readers of all ages. So, similarities galore—and exactly the sort of similarities that make for a dead-on-the-money readalike—but this is also very much an original story.
At its core, this is a book about the power of story, about perception as strength, and about how a difference in perspective can be literally world-altering. Aru tells lies, yes, and she’s very good at justifying those lies to herself—but it’s not purely justification for justification’s sake. In other words, even at her most self-serving, she has a point: lying can be a survival tactic, and some truths are muddy, dependent on perspective. Related to all of that is one of her greatest strengths—imaginative problem-solving. She’s able to look at an obstacle, see it from a different angle, and then back up and approach it differently.
And. AND. Because her traveling companion, Mini—co-demigod and celestial sister—is so much more of a linear-thinker and fact-based-straight-shooter, Aru is forced to grapple with the difference between being a storyteller and being dishonest. It’s a beautiful arc, and it ultimately ties in to her relationship with her mother, her understanding of her mother’s past decisions, and, I assume, will very definitely inform her own actions going forward.
There’s a ton more to talk about here, but in a nutshell: LOVE. I’m so much looking forward not only to the sequel, but to the next two series-starters from this imprint: Storm Runner, by Jennifer Cervantes, and Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.