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Aru Shah and the Song of Death: Pandava, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Aru Shah and the Song of Death: Pandava, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Quirky main characters pep up this Indian myth quest tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Delves into Indian myths and legends, retells snippets of some as we meet famous figures throughout the quest, like Kamadeva, Hindu god of love, Takshaka, a serpentine king, Uloopi, a serpentine princess, and Agni, the Hindu god of fire. Explores Hindu idea of reincarnation as well as modern Indian cuisine and dance (Bhangra!). Glossary begins with disclaimer that this is just a small slice of what Indian mythology and legends have to offer.

Positive Messages

"See well" repeated to characters, meaning notice beyond rumors and find empathy for others before judging. Also, a reminder of the importance of self-love, teamwork, and friendship. Facing fears is better than hiding from them. Life isn't always fair, things happens for reasons we don't always understand, people should concern themselves with doing their duty.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Aru and new Pandava Brynne butt heads at first, but learn to respect each other's gifts and work together. Aru grows into her role as hero, the big-idea-to-save-the-day kind more than the sword-wielding one. Brynne and Aiden both face family troubles -- abandonment and divorce -- and learn to lean on friends instead of keeping secrets about their difficult feelings. It's (very briefly) mentioned that Brynne is bisexual. She's a body-positive, strong girl character who also loves to cook and eat.

Violence

Humans gone missing form an army of zombies. They can only be restored to life through steps in a quest and a special arrow through a villain's heart. Fighting with magical weapons: scimitars, a shape-shifting lightning bolt, force fields. A near-drowning, a kidnapping, a near-stabbing from a giant crab's claws (which would have ended in being eaten), a fire. Stories from Indian mythology where gods and others are killed, punished, or maimed -- repeated mentions of a woman's nose chopped off.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Oreos mentioned often, also Swedish Fish, Snickers, and other candy brands. Stores Home Depot, Apple, and Costco mentioned -- Aru loves Home Depot and dreams she's in one. Celebs like Jay-Z and movies mentioned -- they watch The Lord of the Rings in costume at a birthday party.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The goddess of wine has a different drink in her hand every time she's mentioned. A character says she once snuck champagne and thought it was gross.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Aru Shah and the Song of Death is the second book in the Pandava series published by Rick Riordan Presents. This imprint was started by the hugely popular Percy Jackson author and aims to bring a wider variety of mythological fantasies to kids, written by authors who grew up in a particular tradition. Definitely read the first book in the series, Aru Shah and the End of Time, before tackling this one, especially if you're unfamiliar with the vast world of Indian mythology. Three of the characters are reincarnated Pandavas -- demigod warrior princes -- and are girls all around 12 years old. They're sent on a quest where they fight a giant crab, a serpentine king, and many zombies they are tasked with restoring to aliveness by piercing an enemy's heart with a special arrow. They learn to work together and "see well," or not judge others harshly before they know their whole story. Candy brands and Oreos mentioned often, but Brynne, the body-positive strong-girl character new to the series, focuses just as much on her love of cooking and eating traditional Indian food.

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What's the story?

In ARU SHAH AND THE SONG OF DEATH, Pandava sisters Aru and Mini spot some strange goings-on in the Night Bazaar. Zombies are running amok, and Brynne, another reincarnated Pandava, races through the food court after someone with a bow and arrow -- someone who looks just like Aru. When the Aru lookalike gets away, all the Pandavas look guilty of theft, which really upsets the gods. The bow and arrow belong to the god Kamadeva and have already been used to create the Night Bazaar zombies. The gods send the girls on a 10-day quest to find the bow and arrow and return it. If they fail, they will be banished from the Otherworld forever and their memories erased. Brynne, a shapeshifter trained with weapons, is not so sure about newbie Pandavas Aru and Mini, and squabbling ensues. They've got to learn to work together or they won't survive all the dangers on this quest: an angry swan; a giant, hungry crab; energy-sapping snakes; nightmare wolves; rampaging cows of the dawn ... Beyond that, their best hope to find the godly weapon in time rests in the hands of a curse-happy sage who once took away the gods' immortality.

Is it any good?

Questing through the Indian mythological Otherworld can seem too otherwordly to comprehend at times, but the quirky team of tweens with powers makes it lots of fun. The two reincarnated Pandava princes, clumsy and thoughtful Aru and germ-phobic and loyal Mini, add another Pandava for this sequel quest: Brynne, a body-positive shapeshifter who loves to cook and eat. If the Indian meal she ordered doesn't come out perfect, she'll go into the kitchen and fix it. If a fire god challenges her to an eating contest, pass her a fork. Brynne also brings along a friend, Aiden. He's a cute, quiet guy with a camera and a literal power of persuasion. Brynne butts heads with Aru and Mini at first, but Aiden's calm presence helps them all get along.

These four questers keep things mostly grounded when the story is definitely not. Readers are jostled from godly spaces in the clouds to underwater kingdoms to dream worlds with rampaging cows of the dawn to a swamp in Jersey that leads to an ocean of milk. It can all be hard to imagine, especially when author Roshani Chokshi rushes through the scene setup, which she does often. Still, the action and antics of the main characters move along at a good enough clip to keep Aru Shah and the Song of Death exciting and will definitely get kids excited for future quests with these quirky Pandavas.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Lady M feared in Aru Shah and the Song of Death. Can you think of others who are defined by one wrongdoing in their lives? How do you think it affects them?

  • Aru is advised to "see well." How does it change her when she does? How important is it to have empathy when dealing with others? 

  • Will you read the next in the series? Where do you think the Sleeper is now? How do the Pandavas need to prepare to face him?

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