What a completely new, breath of fresh air fantasy novel for 8-12 year olds! Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi got a lot of press as it was coming out in 2018 not only for it’s unique story, but because it was the first book in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint collection from Disney Press. Disney had apparently approached Riordan do use this imprint as an extension of his hugely popular Percy Jackson series, but he decided instead to an imprint devoted to mythology-based books for middle grade readers. So instead of more Riordan novels, this imprint has a mission to “‘find, nurture, and promote the best storytellers for middle grade readers,’ with the focus on diverse, mythology-based fiction by new, emerging, and under-represented authors.” (Publisher’s Weekly)
We are accustomed to reading stories that take the classic Greek Mythology characters and spin them into something a bit more relatable. Roshani Chokshi manages to bring the stories from Indian mythology to this series remarkably well.
The book itself is a quest story, but full of characters that are common in Indian mythology. Aru Shah is a young girl who doesn’t quite fit in and is constantly making up stories about her life. But it turns out that she didn’t need to lie, her reality was actually a crazier story than she would have been able to imagine. When she accidentally lights the “lamp of destruction” and lets the “Sleeper” out of his prison and might just bring about the end of time. She finds that she is an incarnation of Arunja, one of the 5 Pandava brothers who are the heroes of the epic poem Mahabharata. New to me, but a well known story in Indian families. Along with another Pandava sister, they set out to save the world.
What I loved about the story was not only its unique qualities, but Aru herself feels lost. She doesn’t fit in with the rich children that she goes to school with. She isn’t rich, her mother travels a lot, she never met her father, and she is different just by being Indian. To make herself feel better, she tells herself tales of her mother’s daring adventures, but when other schoolmates hear her stories, she is often accused of lying. Even when she tells the truth, like trying to explain the Mahabharata, no one believes her. But the quest isn’t just to find the sleeper and save time, like any quest of a child who needs to learn about themselves, Aru comes to realize where her powers lie and that her stories can be looked at as imagination instead of lying.
Aru is also very isolated and has put up a lot of walls. Her mother is gone, she spends most of her time in a museum by herself or with a babysitter. She goes to a new school and is having problems making friends. But in this quest, she is forced to follow the quest with Mini, one of her “sisters” who has her own complicated issues. While Aru starts the journey thinking only of herself, she begins to understand that having people with you and supporting them as well works much better than being difficult.
This book is the fantasy/adventure that girls have been waiting for. They get to lead the quest and we get to learn a bit about Indian mythology at the same time. The gods sometimes help them, and sometimes just drop them in the middle of the swimming pool hoping they can swim. Of course, they win in the end, as this is the first of 4 books, but it is a great start to a series.