Title: Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Quartet #1)
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy/Mythology
Release Date: March 27th 2018 from Rick Riordan Presents
Narrator: Soneela Nankani
Listening Time: 10 hours, 24 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: The first in an accessible, funny, and fast-paced fantasy adventure series based on Hindu mythology, about a twelve-year-old girl who sets a cosmic showdown in motion when she lights an ancient lamp on a dare.
Twelve-year-old Aru Shah has a tendency to stretch the truth in order to fit in at school. While her classmates are jetting off to family vacations in exotic locales, she’ll be spending her autumn break at home, in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture, waiting for her mom to return from their latest archeological trip. Is it any wonder that Aru makes up stories about being royalty, traveling to Paris, and having a chauffeur?
One day, three schoolmates show up at Aru’s doorstep to catch her in a lie. They don’t believe her claim that the museum’s Lamp of Bharata is cursed, and they dare Aru to prove it. Just a quick light, Aru thinks. Then she can get herself out of this mess and never ever fib again.
But lighting the lamp has dire consequences. She unwittingly frees the Sleeper, an ancient demon whose duty it is to awaken the God of Destruction. Her classmates and beloved mother are frozen in time, and it’s up to Aru to save them.
The only way to stop the demon is to find the reincarnations of the five legendary Pandava brothers, protagonists of the Hindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, and journey through the Kingdom of Death. But how is one girl in Spider-Man pajamas supposed to do all that?
I decided to pick up the first book of this middle grade series after loving her YA book The Gilded Wolves at the beginning of the year. I heard about how cool this new Rick Riordan Presents imprint was bringing new voices to middle grade books. So when it was available on audio from my library’s Overdrive app, I figured I would give it a try. I will say upfront that I haven’t read any Rick Riordan book, so I was kinda blind going into this. I will say that while this was a fun book, it didn’t wow me and it was just fine for me.
The first pro for me was the narrator. Soneela Nankani has become a prominent narrator with narrating Empire of Sand, The City of Brass series and most novels by Kristen Simmons. Her voice and personality was a perfect fit for this book! She brings out her native accent for some of the Indian words and terms and she captured the personality of the gods and also Aru Shah herself. She kept the whole book entertaining the whole time and I’m glad they got a narrator of similar descent to the author.
The next pro was the sassy pigeon Boo! He’s the animal companion that helps Aru and Mini on their quest to unleash their Pandava destiny and stop the Sleeper. He was one of those mentors that’s like “you need to do your duty” in a snotty voice and I loved his banter/arguments with Aru. He made me laugh and snicker a few times so he made many parts of the book even better. I hope he still stays present in the series and it was interesting to get some of his background to give him a bit more depth.
The final pro for me was learning more about the Indian culture. I knew a bit about the Pandava brothers and the mention of the Mahabharata, since the YA sci-fi/fantasy book A Spark of White Fire (you NEED to read it) uses that famous story as well. But there were many gods, goddesses, magical artifacts, legends and settings that are used and mentioned this book that were new to me. I think these books are very important for both kids who are from India but also other kids who don’t know about other cultures very well. The author approaches so much of her history in a way that kids can find fun and sometimes humorous as Aru and Mini go on their journey.
But sadly, my significant con was the pacing. This book was WAY too overstuffed that it felt like a 400+ page book, instead of the 300+ that it actually is. The fast pace made it feel like we were rushing to the next thing, do something really quick and witty and then move on. You would think that a fast paced book would stay entertaining, but that didn’t work for me. I felt like too much was crammed into this story that it felt clunky. We didn’t get a ton of time to get fully immersed in places like Death or the Night Bazaar before we had to leave again. I wanted a little bit of time to just stay in one place and learn more.
My other con is that there wasn’t an actual conversation between Aru and her mom, who travels a lot and curates the museum. Aru is bummed that her mom has barely noticed her or spent time with her. It takes this major, magical conflict for Aru to learn more about her mom, which is fine but you never see them talk afterwards. I feel like having a moment where things were back to normal that Aru would express her thoughts to her mom and they could learn from each other. I think conversations and kids speaking their feelings are very important, but the lack of that in this book was a major bummer. While it is possible that it can happen in other books, I do wish I had seen that in this first book.
My final con is kind of a weird one, but there was too much humor at times? Sure, the witty comments or funny situations did deliver, but at times it was too much. I feel like these types of books are just too busy and trying to be hip and funny with the younger readers while skimming over a bit more substance. I didn’t think a ton of substance was needed for this book, but when there was exploration as far as family problems and grief were present, they were soon replaced by the story going at a super quick pace and not digging too deep. Since this is my first experience with this type of book, it didn’t wow me all the time.
Overall: I did like this book and I thought the narrator did a great job! I’m glad I learned more about Indian culture and I did like the emerging friendship between Aru and Mini and of course Boo. But the pacing was too much and the plot was too overstuffed to really get immersed and it did bore me at times. I will try the next book on audio, but it’s not high on my radar. This was another okay middle grade book for me. If you’re interested in checking this book out, I do recommend it. If you love the Percy Jackson type books, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? What Rick Riordan Presents book have you liked the most? Let me know in the comments!