(No actual dueling—or even arm-twisting—was involved. Don’t worry, this is a dual review, not a duel review. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)
Danielle Hammelef was the latest winner of my Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up “Make Me Read It” giveaway, and she chose to make me read The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta. I’d bought this book at a Scholastic Book Fair awhile back because it looked like such a fun MG fantasy. I’m so glad she made me read it!
Read on to see what we thought of the book…
The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta
Illustrator: Vivienne To
Series: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1
Published by Scholastic on February 27, 2018
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
My content rating: MG (Some MG-level violence, hints of a possible romance)
MEET KIRANMALA: INTERDIMENSIONAL DEMON SLAYER(Only she doesn't know it yet.)
On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey... until her parents mysteriously vanish and a drooling rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents' fantastical stories-like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess and how she comes from a secret place not of this world.
To complicate matters, two crush-worthy princes ring her doorbell, insisting they've come to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and battle demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld and the Rakkhoshi Queen in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it...
An imaginative middle grade fantasy that weaves Bengali folklore into the life of an everyday sixth grader!
What Fed Our Addiction:
The Bengali folklore! If you’ve been around my blog for long, you know that I’m a fan of books that focus on cultures that haven’t been in the mainstream a whole lot. This book definitely fits the bill. I hadn’t heard of a rakkhosh before reading this book, but I now know that I would not want to encounter one. I enjoyed getting snippets of stories I had never heard of, and I appreciated the glossary at the end of the book that tells us a bit more about the folklore that the book is based on.
Oh, and I should mention that I’ve read several #OwnVoices reviews of this book, and they all seem to rave about how it does such a fantastic job of capturing the stories they grew up with!
A warrior princess. Okay, so this trope may get used a lot, but I’m still a sucker for it: the princess who doesn’t realize who she is. I mean, what middle-grade girl doesn’t love the idea of suddenly discovering they’re some sort of royalty? And I actually loved the fact that Kiran’s parents had told her the truth about her parentage all along, but she just thought it was some sort of quirky joke. “Yeah, haha, I’m a princess. Sure I am.”
This aspect was done with an original twist in this book, so it made the trope fresh. I thought Kiran’s disbelief to be believable because most preteens that I know are trying to become their own person and separate (at least in some ways) from the parental units. This added awesome sarcastic humor that made me laugh out loud, which is always welcomed to me. I loved the “weirdness” of Kiran’s parents and felt the author drew them well for this tale.
Yes! The goofy quirkiness of Kiran’s family was really fun (and a great example of the humor throughout the book).
A side of science. I love that DasGupta managed to tie some science topics into the story. Albert Einstein and topics like string theory are referenced, which might inspire kids to learn a bit more about them!
I’m a science person and love when authors weave science and math into the plot. Maybe teachers can use this book for further class research on these topics.
What Left Us Hungry for More:
The princes. I actually didn’t dislike the princes who join Kiran on her journey, I just never found myself particularly attached to them. Toward the end of the book, we learn some revelations about these two that made them a bit more interesting, but I’m hoping to get more of their stories in the next book! (There’s also a hint of possible romance here, I believe? I wasn’t completely convinced, though—Danielle, what did you think?)
I actually disliked the fact that the princes were considered good looking to Kiran. Why are ugly beings the bullies and villains in most books? Kiran’s attraction to them turned me off, and the infatuation actually is what pulled my rating down for this book. I also never felt a connection to the princes until near-end-of-book reveals. I still wish the author would have made the princes more ordinary which I think would have allowed for more surprises in the plot later or even deeper connections for all readers.
I hadn’t considered the attractiveness of villains versus heroes. You do make a good point.
However, I did read one #OwnVoices review that opened my eyes to something I hadn’t thought of before: the idea that desi kids need to see themselves (or boys of their culture) as the dashing hero too. Because of this, I’m willing to give the book a pass on that account. I’m going to quote Nobonita @ The Bengali Nomad directly because she said it so perfectly:
“…gone are the days where the phrase ‘prince charming’ is only synonymous with the image of a handsome man with blonde hair and blue eyes. In Kiranmala’s story, a prince charming can also be a desi boy in a silk turban.”
So, that wraps it up. This book definitely fed my fiction addiction, and I’m glad Danielle Made Me Read it!
About the Author
Sayantani DasGupta is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically acclaimed, Bengali folktale and string theory-inspired Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond books, the first of which—The Serpent’s Secret—was a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, a Booklist Best Middle Grade Novel of the 21st Century, and an EB White Read Aloud Honor Book. Sayantani is a pediatrician by training, but now teaches at Columbia University. When she’s not writing or reading, Sayantani spends time watching cooking shows with her trilingual children and protecting her black Labrador retriever Khushi from the many things that scare him, including plastic bags. She is also a team member of We Need Diverse Books.
Have you read this one? What did you think? We want to know!