Friday, April 13, 2012

Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress - by Sarwat Chadda

Varanasi: holy city of the Ganges.

In this land of ancient temples, incense and snake charmers…
Where the monsters and heroes of the past come to life…
One slightly geeky boy from our time…
is going to kick some demon ass.

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Sarwat’s two previous books, Devil’s Kiss and Dark Goddess, and had my appetite whetted by his guest blog last month, I'd been looking forward to getting to grips with Ash for some time. The concept behind Ash is very cool, and the fact that it's set in India made it even more so (particularly given that up to now my knowledge of Indian mythology was largely a product of the vacuous offerings of the Temple of Doom).

The titular hero is a chubby thirteen year old boy who, as the story begins, is starting to seriously regret accepting his archaeologist uncle’s invitation to visit an India which had had hitherto only experienced through history books and photographs, none of which could have prepared him for the noise, the crowds, the dust or the flies. Ash doesn’t consider himself Indian per se- he’s a Londoner, and would normally be spending his summer hooked up to a LAN and armed with nothing more than a bucket of KFC and a litre of Coke. Instead, he’s stuck in a sweltering, dusty city and starting to worry about his aunt’s plans to find him a nice girl to marry.

And then he goes to find his little sister who's wandered off at what should have been a run-of-the-mill and thoroughly boring party hosted by Lord Savage, a rich philanthropist with a penchant for ancient Indian history. But a few wrong turns amidst the old fortress puts Ash’s destiny onto a path he could never have imagined, because Lord Savage harbours a secret as dark and terrible hunger as his hunger for power.

Ash's accidental discovery of a hidden chamber sets a chain of events in motion that sees him question his own sanity as all hell threatens to break loose.

The pace of the story accelerates steadily as the new reality facing Ash and his sister begins to bite, and Sarwat doesn’t take his foot off the pedal from here on in. The good vs evil theme within the story might be familiar, as the classic story of the eternal hero, but the richness of the setting and how vividly it come across give the story a great, fresh flavour. The demons are truly creepy, terrifying beings without a shred of humanity, and the imagery surrounding them is wonderfully dark and chilling, particularly when Ash and his bad-ass but subtly tragic companion reach the ancient, demon ravaged citadel in the desert. The myths and legends feel new and exciting- they’re integral to the story, and they're blended in very well; it never felt like I was sitting through a Mythology 101 lecture. In fact, I would have been happy to have had more of it in there. I mean, what’s not to like about demon-hunting goddesses with six arms, magic weapons, buried cities and golden demons?

This is a phenomenally fun book, with a great supporting cast, an insanely over the top plot and a believable, likeable Asian hero who undergoes a blistering yet believable hero's journey. This entire package is testament to Sarwat's passion, research and innate ability to tell a damn good story.  It's Percy Jackson with extra chapati.

The American cover, because it's awesome.

You can visit the very spiffy Ash Mistry website here.

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