City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda
Rick Riordan Presents; 2021; 382 pages
Content Warnings: Islamophobia, animal death, some graphic descriptions of violence and gore, death of a loved one, some intense action scenes, viral epidemic
About the Author: “Sarwat Chadda is a Londoner whose writing depicts the world from both East and West. He is published in both MG and YA, and has also written for Scholastic’s multi-platform series. A first-generation immigrant, Sarwat Chadda has spent a lifetime integrating the best of his Muslim heritage, with the country of his birth. There have been tensions and celebrations, but he’d not wish it any other way. A life-long gamer, he embraced his passion for over-the-top adventure stories by swapping a twenty-year career in engineering for a new one as a writer. That resulted in his first novel, Devil’s Kiss, back in 2009. Since then he has been published in a dozen languages, writing novels such as the Indian mythology-inspired Ash Mistry series and the Shadow Magic trilogy (as Joshua Khan). While he’s traveled far and wide, he’s most at home in London, with his wife, two daughters, and an aloof cat.” (Bio taken from The Greenhouse Literary Agency website.)
After thirteen-year-old Sikander Aziz’s brother died two years ago, Sik’s life has mainly consisted of working at his family’s Manhattan deli and going to school. Fighting monsters straight from the Epic of Gilgamesh and Mesopotamian mythology was definitely not in his plan. But when Nergal, the ancient god of plagues, and his creepy demon minions break into the deli, Sik is thrust into a battle for the very fate of Manhattan. Paired with a kickbutt ninja girl whose mother is the goddess of love and war, the two kids must find the heroes within themselves if they want to save Manhattan and their families from a deadly disease and kick Nergal and his demons back to Kurnugi where they belong.
Sarwat Chadda has crafted another beautiful addition to the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. The Mesopotamian mythology is inserted seamlessly into the modern world of Manhattan, and the characters shine on the page. Sik has a fantastic and fun voice throughout and feels very authentic to a thirteen-year-old boy. Belet too is a wonderful character: feisty and fierce, but also sympathetic and real. As Sik struggles with the loss of his brother and his parents’ illness, readers will be able to identify and sympathize with themes of grief, family hardship, and fighting to understand one’s place in the world. I absolutely loved the Muslim and Arabic representation, and although the glossary in the back was helpful, I enjoyed using context clues to inherently understand what the Arabic, Islamic, and Mesopotamian terms meant. Fans of mythology, races against the clock, and magic will love this fast-paced middle-grade adventure.
(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing us with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change.)
PRR Writer, Wendy Waltrip