Aru and Mini are just beginning Pandava training. But then someone steals the god of love’s bow and arrow, and the thief isn’t playing Cupid. Instead, the shape-shifting thief is turning men into heartless, fighting zombies. The Otherworld is in a panic, and they think Aru is the thief. The gods have decided that Aru must find the weapon within ten days, or both she and Mini will be kicked out of the Otherworld—forever!
Aru won’t be alone on her quest. Along with her Pandava sister, Mini, Aru unwillingly teams up with super-strong Brynne and Aiden, the boy who lives across the street. But Brynne and Aiden are keeping secrets, and Aru isn’t sure she wants them on her team. Still, they must find a way to battle demons and travel through the dangerous serpent realm together.
Getting along with Brynne and Aiden isn’t Aru’s only challenge in Aru Shah and the Song of Death. She must also overcome her own mind, where the Sleeper’s words, “You were never meant to be a hero,” still resonate. Will Aru be able to overcome her self-doubt? Can she prove that she has what it takes to be a hero?
This second installment in the Pandava series takes the reader on a wild ride through the Otherworld. Full of action and adventure, the story adds interesting characters including a crab that is angry that his brother can sing, a handsome boy, and another Pandava sister. Still, readers who fell in love with Mini and Boo will miss them in this book; Boo has a tiny appearance, and Mini spends much of the story in the land of the sleep.
This story highlights the complicated nature of people. Although the villain is clearly acting villainous, the villain is shown to have other sides to her nature. As Aru learns more about India’s history, she discovers that just a hero can also be a monster. The theme is reinforced when Aru’s mom says, “sometimes villains can do heroic things and heroes can do villainous things.” The villain’s story shows that there are always two sides to every story; however, the villain’s past does not excuse their bad behavior.
Also threaded throughout the story are strong messages of treating people with respect, as well as putting others before yourself. Since several of the characters can shape-shift, the reader will see that physical appearances can be deceiving. At one point in the story, Aiden says, “I just don’t think people should be mean to someone because they don’t like the way they look.”
Aru Shah and the Song of Death is a highly entertaining story that brings India’s mythology to life. Because the story has many characters based on mythology, readers not familiar with India’s mythology will need to use the glossary that appears at the back of the book. The different realms of the Otherworld are beautifully described, the gods are diverse and interesting, and the battle scenes are often filled with humor. This book will leave readers thinking about the complicated nature of people and the importance of compassion. As one god said, “Just because something is not fair does not mean it is without reason or even compassion.”
- There is a brief passage when Aru thinks about Aiden’s parents being divorced. She thinks, “Lots of kids at school had divorced parents, and not all families needed a dad and a mom to be whole. Some had two dads, or two moms, or just one parent, or no parent at all.”
- Aiden’s mother was an apsara, a heavenly dancer. In order to be with Aiden’s dad, she had to give up her place in the heavens. Aiden’s parents are getting divorced, and Aiden wonders, “What if she regrets her life? She gave up everything for my dad. And then he leaves her to marry a girlfriend he met while he was still with my mom.”
- Because Aiden’s mother was an apsara, Aiden has the ability to smolder. “In stories, apsaras were the ultimate temptation, because they were unnaturally beautiful and magical. . . apsaras have a kind of hypnotic power. They render themselves impossible to look away from, and even make people follow them.” Aiden uses his power to get past the sage’s waiting room.
- The god of love gives Aiden an arrow. The god of love says, “an enchanted arrow from my own collection, to do with as you wish. But know that you cannot change someone’s free will. And there is no way magical cure for grief. All this arrow can do is open the pathway for love. It doesn’t make someone smitten, and the love doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic.” Aiden uses the arrow on his mother.
- When Aiden says, “I like you Shah,” Aru’s “heartbeat jittered and she felt a not unpleasant swoosh low in her stomach, like butterflies taking wing.” Aru is a little upset when Aiden then says that he likes her as a friend.
- Zombies attack Aru and Mini. Aru “flung Vajra as if it were a javelin. The lightning bolt zapped the wooden peg out of the zombie’s hand, and he pulled his arm back, stung. . . An enchanted flower stall turned its pumpkin vines into a row of exploding jack-o’-lanterns, and the kitchen appliances section summoned an army of wooden spoons to beat a group of zombies over the head.” The attack ends when “fake Aru sent the Pandava girl-jaguar flying back against a wall, where she slid to the floor, unconscious. In a flash of blue light, the big cat turned back into a girl.” The attack lasts for two chapters.
- As Aru and another girl are fighting, “a blast of wind shot Aru straight up into the sky. Her arms started pinwheeling. She glanced down—that was a huge mistake. Everyone looked like really tiny ants. As she fell, the last thing she saw before blacking out was a pair of giant hands reaching to snatch her out of the sky.”
- A giant swan attacks Mini and her friends. Mini uses Dee Dee, and “purple light exploded in a burst in front of them. The swan squawked and stomped back. . . Then Brynne morphed. Blue light blazed around her. Where she had once stood, there was now a blue elephant almost as large as the swan.” Elephant-Brynne “charged at the bird.” The scene takes place over eight pages. No one is injured.
- When trying to get through customs, “the floor opened beneath Aru plunging her into frigid pitch-black waters.” Then a “cold tendril wrapped around her ankle and dragged her under.” Aru discovers that she can breathe and walk underwater. She can also talk to sea creatures.
- A giant crab tries to eat Brynne, Aiden, and Mini. “The crab reared up, swinging one of its pincers, and Brynne went flying against the wall. She slid down, shook her head, and then got back to her feet. . .” Mini uses a shield, but “the shield broke. Down came the pincer. The four of them rolled in different directions. The crab rotated, trying to catch them all at the same time. . .” During the attack, the crab eats Brynne, who turns into an elephant, which the crab throws up. The scene takes place over seven pages.
- The serpent king attacks Aru. He tries to bite her, and “his jaws missed her face by an inch. As she pivoted out of the way, Vajra jumped into her hand, fully expanded. Aru threw the lightning bolt. . .Vajra shot forward like an arrow. But Takshaka was faster. His powerful tail whipped out and knocked the lightning bold aside like it was a toy. . . Takshaka’s tail lashed through the air and caught her in the stomach. She crashed into the wall and slid down, shaking her head.” The fight takes place over six pages. Aru and her friends are able to escape.
- The serpent king tries to stop Aru and her friends. “he zigged and zagged, his great coils winding way up the shelves and blocking the entrance to the ceiling above. . . Takshaka’s fangs lengthened. They were stained yellow, and one was chipped. Venom dripped onto the ground, hitting the floor with a teaming hiss. . . A rush of air hit Aru just as Takshaka lunged.” The wind blows Takshaka backwards. A boy appears and helps the group escape. The scene takes place over five pages.
- A group of asuras try to block Aru and her group from passing. Aru’s group uses their celestial weapons. “They herded the attackers with invisible jabs, forcing them into a tight circle. Brynne blasted them with wind, and Aru added the finishing touch: a golden electrical net to catch and pin them in place.” The asuras flee as soon as the net is taken off.
- Sparky will not allow Aru and his group to go into the Ocean of Milk. He challenged Brynne to an eating contest. As he is eating, “his skin, which had always been a bit ruddy, now reminded her of embers. Even his hair, once a rust color, like a bad dye job, had changed. Now it looked multicolored—blue at the roots, orange in the middle, and yellow at the tips. Like a flame. . . Sparky wasn’t some kid with ugly sunglasses and an appetite that could destroy a city. He was Agni, the god of fire. And he was on the verge of consuming them. . . The fire continued to move closer. Aiden raced back toward them. There were soot marks on his face and he was out of breath. . . Waves of fire skirted around them, nearly blistering their skin and blackening the wooden planks beneath their feet. Agni opened his jaws, getting ready to swallow them whole. All Aru could see were searing flames, “the air in front of her heat-warped and furious.” Aru is able to use a godly gift to defeat Sparky. The scene takes place over ten pages.
- The story ends in an epic, multi-chapter battle scene. When the villain shoots an arrow at Aru, “Aiden dove in front of her. . . The arrow hit him with full force. Aiden crumpled up on the ground.” Aiden turns into one of the heartless. As the battle continues, “Mini aimed Dee Dee at the first line of Heartless, which included Aiden. A burst of violet light blasted them, and they fell to either side. Almost immediately, they started to get back up. . . Aru steadied herself, preparing for his next blow. When it came, Aru fell to the ground. . . Aiden roared, ready himself to plunge his blades straight through her. At the last second, Aru rolled out of the way. Aiden snarled. He tried to life the scimitars to strike again, but they were stuck in the damp sand.” The villain is defeated.
Drugs and Alcohol
- When Aru meets Varuni, the goddess changes colors. Aru thinks the goddess is sparkling; “It reminded Aru of champagne. Which was disgusting. The one time she’d sneaked a sip from her mom’s New Year’s Eve glass, it had tasted like rotten soda.”
- While Varuni is talking to her husband, he implies that Varuni drinks too much. Later in the story, Varuni “sipped on something that looked like tomato juice and had a piece of celery sticking out of it.”
- “Oh my god” is used as an exclamation once, and “Oh my gods” is used an exclamation twice.
- “Heck” is used twice.
- Brynne calls two obnoxious asuras “pigs.”
- The story focuses on Indian Mythology and includes gods, demigods, monsters, and demons. The back of the book includes a glossary of Indian mythology, so the reader can understand who the mythological characters are.
- During a fight, a shapeshifter “shifted into a blue world and was carrying a large bow and arrow in her mouth as she ran.” Later the person shifts into the likeness of Aru.
- Each Pandava has a celestial weapon. Mini has Dee Dee, which can cast a shield of invisibility. Aru has Bajra, which is a bracelet that can turn into a lightning bolt.
- Aru and the other Pandavas can speak to each other telepathically.
- When Aru and her group go to see a sage, he is cursing people. One curse is, “May all the chocolate chip cookies you reach for turn out to be cleverly disguised oatmeal raisins.” Another curse is, “May you always fumble with your credit card in Starbucks when there’s a huge line behind you.”
- When Aru and her group go to the Queen Uloopi’s old palace, they find a cursed place littered with skulls. When Mini touched a skull, “the jaws snapped open. . . nearby another skull—or, honestly little more than a jawbone—laughed and whispered.” Mini goes into a trance which allows her to talk to voices. The voices give Mini the knowledge that she seeks, but then “a serpent tail as thick as a redwood trunk curled around her body and yanked her toward the cave.” Mini is taken to the land of the sleep, “far from the reaches of mortals.”
- Aru and her group see “huge night-black hounds prowling toward them. Saliva dripping from their jaws. Their eyes looked like round mirrors, but instead of reflections, they reveal moving images.” The hound’s eyes reflect the person’s worst nightmare.
- When Queen Uloopi is given her heart jewel, “a bright light washed over her, and Uloopi was transformed. . . Her wrinkled skin glowed, and the gray in her hair shone like silver. Her eyes sparkled . . .” When her heart jewel is restored, she is able to catch “up on all the things she hadn’t properly seen.”
- One of the characters is a Rakshasa, which is a “mythological being, like a demigod. Sometimes good and sometimes bad, they are powerful sorcerers, and can change shape to take on any form.”
- Brynne is part asura, which is why she can shapeshift. She is the daughter of Lord Vayu, the God of the wind, so she never loses her direction.
- Aru and her friend are looking for someone’s soul song. They find it, and “in the astral plane, the song orb had taken on a strange pulsing glow, reminding Aru that this was actually a part of someone’s soul. Someone had wanted the god of love’s arrow so dearly that they’d been willing to part with their very essence.”
- Aru has an encounter with the god of waters, who is “known for being as fickle as the sea itself.” She then meets his wife, Varuni, who is the goddess of wine.
- Aru and the other Pandavas have been reincarnated. However, the reincarnated are not the same person they once were. Aru, who was reincarnated from Arjuna said, “Arjuna and I are completely different people. That’s like expecting Brynne to have the power of ten thousand elephants just because she’s Bhima reincarnated! Or asking Mini to rule a country now just because she’s got Yudhistira’s soul! I’m not Arjuna!”
- When an enemy of Arjuna appears, he wants revenge. Aru argues, “I mean, that was like a millennium ago. And I’m not Arjuna. We just have the same soul. It’s like getting someone’s hand-me-down socks, honest.”
- Aru and her friends meet with a sage. “A sage is a very wise person. Aru’s mom had told her that some have special powers, because of their religious focus. Once there was a sage so formidable he put a curse on the gods themselves—he caused them to lose their immortality.”
- Agni, the god of fire, explains how “I’m a sacred part of every prayer! You know at weddings, that there’s a holy fire for the bride and groom to walk around? That’s me!”