Aru Shah and the Song of Death (Pandava Series #2) by Roshani Chokshi.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2019.
MG fantasy, 381 pages including glossary.
Lexile: 700L .
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 13.0 points) .
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for the previous book.
Aru Shah and her friend Mini are back – and need to clear Aru’s name quick after a thief wearing her form stole the god of love’s bow and arrows. In order to stop the thief’s horde of heartless zombies, they’ll have to team up with extra-strength Brynne and that unusual guy from across the street.
This installment of the Pandava series introduces two new characters, sidelines some who were main players in the first book (mostly Boo) and involves a lot of courtly intrigue.
The underworld apparently operates under the idea of guilty until proven innocent, so even though there’s a picture proving that a malicious doppelganger stole the bow and arrows, not Aru, she still has to quest to clear her name by finding the real thief and retrieving the stolen goods. Plus some of the people they’re battling have the favors of the gods, and Aru and friends don’t get extra help while they’re considered criminals.
Of course, there’s the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and different members of the underworld choose to follow different interpretations. Mini continues to be a reluctant rule-breaker, but the dynamic duo are also paired with another team. Aidan is the boy next door but also hiding a lot of secrets.
Brynne is a girl with super physical strength, but emotionally vulnerable and with a complicated family story. She’s an overachiever who tries to excel at everything, but her true passion is cooking, just like Aidan is passionate about photography. They’ve been friends for a lot longer than Mini and Aru.
Later on in the book some other young characters are introduced, including one who is part of the Otherworld Foster Care System. I was both excited and worried by how this might play out, but it was well done. The series now includes a character with a single mom, one with a two parent multi-ethnicity family, another whose parents are going through a divorce, one being raised by other relatives, and one in foster care. The end of this book introduces the next Pandavas Aru will meet, and I’m curious what their family situation will be.
Each book seems to explore a different part of the underworld and this one focuses heavily on the Naga Realm and Queen Uloopi, one of the Pandava consorts. I greatly enjoyed the worldbuilding; Chokshi has a knack for combining the practical and the mystical with funny and memorable details.
This volume also delves into the idea of stories – how they shape our ideas and our world, how they can be misconstrued, who is left out of some tales, and more. Chokshi also introduces something that I think will continue in future volumes, as Aru ponders whether she agrees with the gods on various topics. The answer is not always yes, and she does manage to see that every story has various sides to it. Hopefully this will be explored more fully in future volumes.
For whatever reason, although I enjoyed this book, it felt a bit off. Perhaps it was the absence of Boo, or that the underworld was now against them instead of supporting them, or maybe even that it is just a second novel and those are hard to write. But I felt like this installment was trying too hard to be a Percy Jackson novel, instead of leaning in to the unique strengths and weaknesses of Aru and the Pandava world.
That said, I still enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the next in this series. Just hoping that one will get back to the vibe that we so greatly enjoyed from the first book.
Adults should be aware that this book contains theft, peril, destruction, abandonment by parents and other authority figures, discusses consent and lack thereof, magical enchantments, bullying, fire, an eating contest, beauty standards, a mild crush, and of course many, many puns.