Goodreads: The Serpent’s Secret
Series: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1
Kiran’s parents have always told her that she is an Indian princess. But she never believed them until her twelfth birthday, when her parents disappear and a rakkhosh demon chases her out of her house. Aided by two princes, Kiran flees to the magical Kingdom Beyond. But the clock is ticking. Can Kiran save her parents before they are eaten by demons?
“We humans may not be powerful or magical,” Baba added, holding me close. “But the stories we pass on to our children can be.”
A story about a modern-day girl meeting the characters of Bengali folklore will obviously draw comparisons to Rick Riordan. However, since I have only read The Lightning Thief and do not recall much except not liking it, I have little to say on this matter. Indeed, my only Riordan-esque observation is that, strangely, Aru Shah and the End of Time seems much more popular on Goodreads at the time I write this review–even though both books have a similar premise. I assume because Aru Shah is presented by Rick Riordan and The Serpent’s Shadow is not.
Not knowing much about Bengali folklore, I approached The Serpent’s Shadow as a I would any middle-grade fantasy. I could not anticipate the entrances of familiar characters or compare them to their other literary incarnations. I could only enjoy what I saw happening on the page. And, largely, I did enjoy the story. It is fun, fast-paced, and filled with the type of humor that seemingly appeals to middle school readers. I think fans of Percy Jackson will like Kiran’s adventures, as well.
Indeed, my main criticisms are personal and not really a reflection on the writing quality of the book. First, I do not enjoy sarcastic or rude characters. Kiran is both, the kind of character who makes pathetic comebacks because she thinks insulting people is equivalent to being strong. She also has a habit of pointing out all the bad qualities of other people and starting arguments over nothing. Because of this, it took me a good chunk of the book to start liking her.
Secondly, Kiran has a huge issue with princesses. The result is that the book seems to be criticizing people who like princesses. “Look at my heroine!” the book seems to shout. “She’s dressed in a hoodie and hates all things sparkly! That makes her better than other royal heroines!” I am not sure the book meant to convey this attitude. I also recognize that Kiran’s opinions do not have to represent the opinions of the author. Still, I can certainly see why princess-loving readers might feel personally insulted by the tone of the book (despite the fact that Kiran is, ironically, a princess herself). Kiran’s attitude is that “girls who can kick demon butt are better than girls who aren’t into fighting” and not much in the book contradicts her perspective.
Other than that, I suspect the main fault readers will find with the book is that it is predictable. But so are a host of other middle-grade fantasies. And I am not sure that middle school readers will care. The story is still engaging, the mini quests full of danger, the ending satisfactory. The Serpent’s Shadow does not stand out for me among a host of similar books, but it is solid.