Aru Shah is a heroine that demands your attention from the very beginning. She is a bit of an outcast, somewhat lonely, but adds so much colour with her grand imagination and small fibs that you can’t help but adore her.
Aru lives in a museum of Indian Culture with her mother, who always seems to be out acquiring items for display. While she loves living in the museum and the stories that her mother tells her she often feels different from her rich, white classmates. And it’s wanting to impress some of her meaner classmates that gets her into so much trouble.
When three of her classmates show up to catch Aru in a lie she decides to try and impress them by lighting the diya lamp that is supposed to never be lit, because it will free the Sleeper inside. But of course Aru doesn’t believe the story and lights the lamp anyway. That’s when the Sleeper is freed and freezes her mother and everyone in the vicinity.
Aru learns from her new animal sidekick (pidgeon) Boo that she is a reincarnation of one of the Pandava brothers and it is her job to defeat the Sleeper before he can get his hands on some celestial weapons and wake the Destroyer. But she’s not alone, her reincarnated soul sister Mini is around to help her out.
Aru is creative and brave; Mini is the neurotic giraffe from Madagascar, but also wise and loyal. They have to work together to defeat the Sleeper which involves a surprising number of task to-dos in their quest. We get to see the Night Market, a place that Chokshi has written about in her novel The Star-Touched Queen but captured my interest far more here. Here the Night Market looks like a Costco, until you look closer. And it looks different to different people and is even accessible to beings from other mythologies. Maybe it’s a product of being raised on Harry Potter but I love when magical things get disguised or blended with magical things. It becomes such an interesting way of relating to old stories.
Personally, I haven’t had much contact with myths from India. I barely know one God from the next but reading this book was such a pleasure, perhaps more so because I know almost nothing about Indian mythology. It’s kind of like being a kid again, before you get all jaded and learn to predict what’s happening in everything you read. And then when mythological figures pops up you get to learn who they are and little quirks about them, and they’re brand new to you.
The most important myth in this story’s is epic story about the Pandavas, detailing their exploits as they defeat the God of Destruction. Chokshi wisely tells us only a little bit about the brother’s and their adventures, saving room for a lot of more surprises and twists for the rest of the quartet. Yes, that’s right, quartet. We get three more books following Aru and her soul sisters.
There is a great moment at the end of the series where Aru gets a glimpse of the her and her sisters in a moment when they are all together and in battle and they sound fierce and awesome. I am so excited to meet them all. I get the sense that they are going to be strong and supportive and kick some butt in a twisty, fun story.