Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, 368 pp, RL 4

Aru Shah and the end of Time by Roshani Chokshi is the first book in a series and also the first book published by Rick Riordan Presents, a new imprint with Disney with the goal of publishing, "great books by middle grade authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to let them tell their own stories inspired by the mythology and folklore of their own heritage." Having written series centered on Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse mythologies, I think it is very nice of Riordan to give other authors a chance, especially when the authors are members of these underrepresented cultures. And this is not just another money maker for Riordan! As he says, "Disney is paying me a nominal fee to write an introduction for each book, help edit  and promote it, etc., but that's the limit of my monetary involvement. . .  I am not doing this for money. . . Honestly, for me this is away to give back for my success. I've been lucky in my career. I want to use my platform to help other writers get a wider audience. I also want to help kids have a wider variety of books to choose from, especially those that deal with world mythology." While you may detect a note of cynicism and/or sarcasm in my tone, it is really just sadness that diverse authors writing books with diverse characters need Riordan's name on their books in order for us to buy them. That said, Aru Shah and the End of Time is perfect book for Riordan to kick off his imprint with. Chokshi delivers a plot and characters that will feel be immediately recognizable to Riordan's legion of fans. To this, she brings the richly detailed, intricate and, as with all gods from all ancient mythologies, crazy behavior and life choices of the gods and goddesses of Hindu mythology, to the page. Choskhi also brings some truly beautiful writing to these pages in her descriptions of the Otherworld and its inhabitants, while also capturing the chatty, informal, tone that Riordan has mastered, addressing readers directly in her entertaining glossary at the end of the book. But, best and bravest of all, Aru Shah and the End of Time has TWO FEMALE PROTAGONISTS!!! That is still rare in middle grade fantasy, right? I haven't been reading as much middle grade fantasy as I used to (the reading level of this genre out of reach to all but a few students at the elementary school where I am the librarian) but I think this is still rare? Please let me know that I am wrong!

Once again, seventh grader Aru Shah is stuck at home, which just happens to be an apartment connected to the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture in Atlanta, Georgia, where her mother is the curator. Aru is new to Augustus Day School, where students get dropped off by drivers and go to fabulous places all over the world for vacation, and she wants to fit in. So, Aru lies, among a few other things, about going to Paris for vacation. When her classmates show up at her door to catch her in a lie, she ends up, still wearing her Spiderman pajamas, taking them into the museum where they are her to light the cursed Lamp of Bharata. Which, of course, she does.

When the lamp is lit, the Sleeper is awakened and the world around Aru freezes. Her classmates, her mother, who was running to the museum to stop her, are motionless. From the mouth of an ancient elephant sculpture comes a voice and Subala, the creature given the sacred duty of guiding the Pandava brother who lit the lamp, emerges. Subala, who turns out to be a pigeon (his form is a bit of a mystery/punishment that becomes part of the story) is deeply upset to learn that the Pandava brother, one of five demigod warrior princes and heroes of the epic Mahabharata poem, is in fact a teenaged girl. And, when Subala, nicknamed Boo by Aru, and Aru travel to find the other Pandava brother who will fight the Sleeper with her, they are in for another surprise. Not only is Mini a girl, she is Indian-Filipino and her full name is Yamini Kapoor-Mercado-Lopez. I LOVE that Chokshi made one of her characters multi-cultural! While we are definitely a country of immigrants, we are also a country of multicultural Americans and I have just enough students who are of Mexican and Filipino descent that their eyes light up when I tell them about a book with a character who is part Filipino. Chokshi also touches on gender discrimination, or the challenges of being a girl in the character of Mini. Knowing that there is a Pandava in her family, Mini's mother, who is Indian, assumes that her brother is the Pandava and prepares him for his coming quest. Mini, who is a bit of a germaphobic worrier, has her anxieties increase when she realizes that not only is she the Pandava, she has not been prepared for this role the way her brother has. She does have the sense to grab her brother's "Pandava Preparedness" backpack before embarking on her quest with Aru and Boo.
Aru, Mini and Boo's quest takes them on a labyrinthine journey, searching for information and answers (including the identities of their god-fathers, since as Pandavas, Mini and Aru are also demigods) then completing intricate tasks and retrieving magical items and information that will allow them to conquer the Sleeper, who is spreading his freeze-disease all over the world. Sometimes the trio is entirely in the Otherworld, sometimes they are in a part of our world where the Otherworld exists, but behind a veil of illusion. An elegant beauty salon is actually the home of Brahmasura, a semi-divine being who turns all he touches into ash. When the trio heads to the Night Bazaar, they enter by way of a Costco. These elements, which will be familiar to Riordan's fans, are fun and funny, but as an adult reader, I was yearning for something more, especially when, midway through Aru Shah and the End of Time, Mini mentions her favorite book, The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (which I have never reviewed here because, despite my profound love for it, I know I cannot do it justice in a review), which happens to also be my absolute favorite trilogy/series in the world. When I read Riordan's books, and reading Chokshi's, I grew weary of the endless running from one place to another, completing one task after another and found myself wanting a larger plot structure for this story to fit into. While there is a thread involving Aru's absentee father and some secrets about her mother, this isn't enough to make the "end of time" that the Sleeper threatens feel imminently dangerous in the way that say, the Oblation Board and the severing of children and their demons did in Pullman's book. But, in the end, I think that's why Riordan's books probably are more widely read (and sell more copies) than Pullman's - at the end of the day, maybe kids (and some adults) just want to have fun without being nudged to think about larger philosophical, ethical and religious concepts. And that's ok. Books can be entertaining. Books can be thought provoking. And sometimes they can be both.

Source: Purchased Book and Audio Book

The next two books being published by Rick Riordan Presents will feature Mayan mythology and Korean  mythology.

The Storm Runner by Jennifer Cervantes is due on September 18 of this year. The blurb for the book reads: Zane is a lonely 13-year-old boy living in New Mexico whose physical disability makes him feel even more like everyone at his middle school is watching him. But, as he soon learns, his physical differences are merely the first clue to a family history that connects him to the Mayan gods - and puts him in mortal danger. As an ancient Mayan prophecy begins to unravel, Zane has to find the hero within himself.

Dragon Pearl by adult sci-fi author Yoon Ha Lee will be released Spring of 2019> Here is Riordan's summary:

My elevator pitch for the book is simple: Korean fox spirits in space! (Echo: space, space space.) It's a mix of sci fi opera and Korean mythology. This is not something you're going to see every day, and no one could pull it off like Yoon Ha Lee does. Our main character is Min, a teenaged fox spirit whose brother disappears, supposedly deserting the Thousand Worlds Space Forces to search for the legendary artifact the Dragon Pearl, which may have the power to save their struggling home colony.

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