Publication Date: February 27, 2018
|Details:||In stock, arrives in 3-5 business days. In-store pickup available.|
Juvenile Fiction / Fantasy & Magic
Ages 8 to 12, Grades 3 to 7
A new middle-grade fantasy series packed with action and adventure, perfect for fans of Rick Riordan and Soman Chainani.
MEET KIRANMALA: INTERDIMENSIONAL DEMON SLAYER (Only she doesn't know it yet.)
On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey . . . until her parents mysteriously vanish and a drooling rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive.
Turns out there might be some truth to her parents' fantastical stories-like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess and how she comes from a secret place not of this world.
To complicate matters, two crush-worthy princes ring her doorbell, insisting they've come to rescue her.
Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and battle demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld and the Rakkhoshi Queen in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it . . .
Demons, stars, and shadows, oh my! The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta has been an exciting read. It's full of adventure and plot twists, all told through the skeptical voice of your typical New Jersey-seventh-grader-turned-Indian-princess.
This story is a combination of North Indian folklore and science--the concept sounds oxymoronical, but just makes the book even more exciting. Kiranmala (Kiran for short) has been told all her life by her parents that she's actually an Indian princess. Naturally, she doesn't believe them. However, she starts to realize there might be some truth in this when her parents are kidnapped on her twelfth birthday, a fierce demon called a rakkhosh destroys her house, and she's whisked away by two Indian princes--whose names, Lal and Neel, translate to Red and Blue--on a flying horse (no, it is not a Pegasus; it's called a pakkhiraj horse). Neel's demon mother transforms Prince Lal and his friend into spheres. With the help of a questionably wise bird, Kiran and Prince Neel go on a quest to transform the friends and save Kiran's parents--who turn out to have adopted her.
What I've enjoyed the most while reading this book are all the little details that make the story just a little funnier, a little sweeter, a little more resembling India. For example, Kiran and Neel need to at one point travel through Demon Land, where they see a comical sign prompting them to visit soon in a parody of a misspelled roadside sign in India--nicknamed the Blood-Thirsty State, its state flower is a thorn, its state bird a vulture, its state symbol a razor--and complimentary toothpicks are offered at the gift shop! Kiran's and Neel's avian companion (allegedly the king's minister) pretends to be a game show host before giving them a prophecy. Kiran's trying to guess how a mosquito can cause the king to arrest a barber, and answers that the smallest thing can make a difference. No, she doesn't want to dial a prince. Yes, that is her final answer.
What Ms. DasGupta does masterfully is weaving together science and mythology. In her book, she introduces the idea of dark energy, and claims that all rakkhosh demons are born from wells of said dark energy, born from black holes. Apparently, stars are a special kind of magic: spells, wishes and dreams that are held in the deepest place of the heart. And who better to teach Kiran, Neel, and the reader about the magic and connection of everything through energy than Albert Einstein-ji himself! (The suffix -ji is a sign of respect.) He's in charge of the star nursery, where baby stars are born, and it's him who explains that light cannot exist without darkness. This is a great metaphor towards life; there is no good without any bad. A person can't realize how much he or she has been blessed with before realizing that so many have it much worse. The difference between a story and a bumper sticker is the conflict and plot twists--in other words, some kind of antagonist force that forces the protagonist to change.
The author's incorporations of Hindu beliefs and mythology into this tale is also interesting. Kiran's biological mother and father are the moon and the evil serpent king. This serpent, called Sesha, lives in the underworld surrounded by snakes and jewels. Wait a second. One of the most powerful and most beloved of the Hindu gods is called Vishnu, and he's always depicted reclining on a huge snake called Adishesha. The parody of names is evident, but what I find fascinating is that Ms. DasGupta has completely twisted Adishesha's character from one of Vishnu's loyal, goodhearted followers to an evil, corrupt king of snakes. I wonder why she would depict Adishesha this way; the need for an evil father and negligent mother is great. Kiran needs a reason to doubt her heritage and who she really is. Another way the author may have twisted the facts of mythology also concerns Vishnu. Once, when Earth was in bad shape and evil was prevalent, Vishnu was born as a mortal named Krishna. Krishna is known for being very naughty, and one day, he's caught eating mud by his mother. His mother forces him to open his mouth so she can wipe it, and she sees the universe in his mouth: the stars, planets, galaxies, Earth, villages, and even herself. Instead of Krishna, the author puts the universe inside a demoness's mouth. Obviously, this rakkhoshi is far from being Vishnu himself, and yet the universe is still in her mouth. This links back to science and mythology being blended together: Kiran thinks the rakkhoshi could possibly be a black hole at the center of the universe that devours everything in sight. The author also brings up the topic of a human's body only being a vessel for a life force, which returns to a higher place when a person dies, to be put in another vessel. This is one of the central ideas of Hinduism.
Sayantani DasGupta skillfully weaves together a tale of science, Hindu mythology, light, and love that captures the poignancy and identity of an immigrant. Just like Kiranmala, 1st generation Americans can feel embarrassed of their culture, and discomfort of America's environment. In the end, love connects everything, trumps all embarrassment, and can show immigrants that adapting to a new place does not have to mean losing their cultural identity. Just like Princess Kiran, immigrants have to struggle with the question, "Who am I?" when, as Kiran finds out, the real question to ask is, "Who do I choose to be?" Kiran doesn't want to be with her serpent father and moon mother, biological or otherwise, as much as she wants to be proud of the humble farmers who have loved her as their own for twelve years. The immigrant experience: the ultimate game of "Who am I?" Ray Bradbury expresses the insecurity of changing in The Naming of Names, where one character says, "'I feel like a salt crystal . . . in a mountain stream, being washed away." This character feels that if he adapts to the new climate and environment, his identity will be lost--a feeling to which many can relate.
I can't wait for the next book, and what Kiran will learn in The Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers. - Trisha