Review: The Savage Fortress

“The air turned foggy, and Ash’s sweat turned to ice. He sank to the ground, his body wracked with pain.” page 164

The Savage Fortress (Ash Mistry #1) by Sarwat Chadda.
Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic, New York, 2012.
MG fantasy, 292 pages.
Lexile:  660L  .
AR Level:  4.6 (worth 10.0 points)  .

Ash Mistry is the pudgy video-game-loving Indian mythology nerd we never realized we needed to save the world.  Spending the summer with his sister visiting his aunt and uncle, he gets caught up in a strange archaeological dig, which leads to even stranger events.

Ash Mistry The Savage Fortress resized

This past year, two debut MG fantasy series drawing from Indian culture have gotten a lot of buzz – Aru Shah in the Rick Riordan imprint, and Scholastic’s Kiranmala Chronicles.  But those series are only releasing about one per year, so what’s a fantasy lover to do in the meantime?  Binge this already-completed trilogy, of course!

VERY MAJOR Spoilers |  So many characters die in this, it’s a good thing there’s a large ensemble cast.  I was shocked when Ash actually died.  It was surprising when his aunt and uncle were killed, but that does happen sometimes to clear the way for a fantasy hero’s independent action.  Then when his mentor died, it was a bit unusual.  But for the hero of the series to die in the first book… that was a bold move.

Spoilers continue  |  There is also some romance in this book.  Ash mentions a girl he likes back home fairly often, and he is attracted to another he meets over the course of his adventures.  As a shapeshifter, the new girl is occasionally less than clothed, which he notices.  There is also one kiss, and rather more angst over the kiss than I needed, although the target audience may relate.  |  End of spoilers

An aspect I greatly enjoyed was the realism.  Everyone has an idea that Lord Savage is shady from the beginning, but when he offers a fortune, Uncle Vikram is still ready to sign on the dotted line.  And it’s not just magical powers and strange creatures that Lord Savage can unleash.  He leverages cash, his white face, and fame to raise obstacles for our heroes and get his way.  I can’t recall ever seeing this done reasonably in a fantasy novel before!  Some of the major spoilers mentioned above also have to do with the unexpected realism.

Some parts I was less thrilled about.  His sister Lakshmi is very passive and becomes a pawn in the major players game.  You may have noticed that on the cover Ash is not depicted as overweight – the cover scene takes place later in the novel.  Although it was thrilling to see an out of shape hero, I was equally disappointed later that so much physical change was required to fulfill his destiny.

There are some interesting moral points to this without being preachy.  Ash starts off as a minor kleptomaniac, and I love a reasonably flawed hero.  And one aspect of a life-or-death fantasy novel where most characters are Hindu that I hadn’t considered, is that the heroes aren’t overly concerned with surviving the battles, just living long enough to meet their objectives.  Some already remember many previous incarnations.

On the other hand, that nonchalance about reincarnation might not work for sensitive or easily scared children from a Western background who have only been exposed to the idea of one finite death.  I’d definitely recommend prereading for elementary.

This series skews a little older than the other two, more upper end of MG or even lower high school.  While the overall tone is not too dark, there are very serious moments, and serious consequences to events.  There’s some mild romance, rather tame compared to high school standards but possibly too much for younger children.  Chadda’s previous books were YA, which shows, but is also refreshing.  He doesn’t pander to young readers.

While this book wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.  I’m impressed that Chadda was published in 2012, before the diverse books movement had gained a lot of traction.

As happy as I am with this author, I continue to be surprised at the promotional decisions made by Scholastic.  With the Kiranmala Chronicles doing well, why aren’t they promoting this older series alongside it?  Riordan has reviewed it favorably, yet the third book (published 2013 in the UK) has never been released in the US.  Why?

Frustrating as that is, I suspect this trilogy will be worth hunting down a UK copy of the third book.  Not perfect, but still recommended to fans of either series who don’t mind reading about a boy while they wait for the next Aru or Kiranmala adventure!

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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