The Serpent’s Secret is the first book in the series Kiranamala and the Kingdom Beyond. Aru Shah and the End of Time is the first book in the Pandava series. I received an audio book for one of these novels and about a week later the other I’d reserved at my local library became available. I thought it might be helpful to compare them as they both feature similar, but different, diverse characters and stories.
Although these books are both for ages eight to twelve, The Serpent’s Secret is more appropriate for the younger end of this range. The age and maturity of the protagonist depicts this difference, but equally, this book has fewer characters, a less complicated plot, less terrifying adversaries and less overall danger.
The story begins as our protagonist, Kiran, arrives home to find her parents missing. She’s mulling over a mysterious note from them when a huge, slobbery, monster crashes into her kitchen. It is a rakkhosh, she realizes, from the bedtime folk tales her parents have always told her (Apparently, these folk tales are actually true!). She is immediately saved by two princes on winged horses. Although the monster seems intent on eating the three of them, it is also chanting rhyming threats that are more funny than scary. Our princes are reluctant to kill the monster, and render him unconscious, instead. A quest to find Kiran’s parents ensues into a kingdom in a different dimension...
DasGupta's world building is vivid and imaginative, and peopled with elements from Bengali folk tales. Banter between the princes, Kiran and other characters is often hilarious and always engaging. There are battles and fighting, but rakkhosh rhymes and their copious snot and drool create more slapstick comedy than fear for the reader. The monsters feel harmless rather than menacing. The author also works STEM content into the story, like ideas about dark matter, time, dimensions, etc. Albert Einstein even makes an appearance! An author’s note relates many of the scenes and characters to part of Bengali Folktales she heard as a child. It is her hope that her ideas might encourage young patrons to read more. I’m looking forward to book two!
In Aru Shah and the End of Time, by contrast, there is a lot more at stake. Aru inadvertently releases a malevolent spirit from a lamp when she intentionally disobeys her mother – for a dare. When said spirit is free, everyone around Aru freezes. Her mother is frozen in place, the frenemies who dared her, everyone on the street... She learns that she and Minnie, another tween girl, are Pandava - two reincarnations of five hero brothers born again and again to save the world...
Weighty themes of trust, self-hood and honour define much of the action. The gods of Hindu Mythology are all characters in this story, as well as the mythical creatures they ride. They are extremely interesting and their backstories and interactions enhance the story immensely; but, it is tougher sledding than the world in The Serpent’s Secret. Also, Aru and Minnie are tasked – alone – with completing quests, and eventually confronting the evil spirit before time stops completely and everyone in the world dies.
Rakkhosh demons are among the adversaries confronting Aru and Minnie, but they aren’t funny and they are very scary. Rick Riordon was involved in publishing this book. Readers who enjoy his many series should enjoy this one.