TITLE: Rea & the Blood of the Nectar
AUTHOR: Payal Doshi
PUBLISHER: Mango & Marigold Press
NO. OF PAGES: ~ 350
GENRE: Middle-Grade Fantasy
Do I recommend it? Yes, I definitely do! Especially to the age group of 8 to 14 years old.
It all begins on the night Rea turns twelve. After a big fight with her twin brother Rohan on their birthday, Rea’s life in the small village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. It’s four in the morning and Rohan is nowhere to be found.
It hasn’t even been a day and Amma acts like Rohan’s gone forever. Her grandmother, too, is behaving strangely. Unwilling to give up on her brother, Rea and her friend Leela meet Mishti Daadi, a wrinkly old fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling and secret quest. In the shade of night, they portal into an otherworldly realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy. There, with the help of Xeranther, an Astranthian barrow boy, and Flula, a pari, Rea battles serpent-lilies and blood-sucking banshees, encounters a butterfly-faced woman and blue lizard-men and learns that Rohan has been captured. Rea also discovers that she is a princess with magic. Only she has no idea how to use it.
Struggling with the truth her Amma has kept hidden from her, Rea must solve clues that lead to Rohan, find a way to rescue him and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking. Can she rescue Rohan, save Astranthia, and live to see it all?
First of all, let me tell you all that this book is a middle-grade fantasy with Indian representation, folks! And I must admit that this is the first of its kind that I came across and read.
While growing up, I devoured fantasy books and movies but what always tugged at my heart is that all of this cool and weird stuff always happen in THE WEST! Why does no one write about an Indian character in an Indian setting? This question has always bothered me and is one of the reasons why I write myself.
However, I’m so glad to come across this book. Thanks to Amisha who read this first and it was her review that made me read this.
Book Title & Book Cover ~
The first thing that grabbed my attention is the title of the book and the cover. I saw a brown girl, full of fire in her eyes, and the name Rea caught me in a snare. The zeal in the eyes of the girl was infectious and I believe the cover artist did a pretty good job. Moreover, the fact that this book was representing Indian characters, just had my heart and head.
Pace of the Narrative & Structure:
This book is a typical middle-grade fantasy and I loved how the character is in action right from the beginning. There’s a good pace throughout the novel and I really liked how the tension got thick towards the middle portion of the book. The ending took me through quite a few twists and turns which I obviously wasn’t expecting and thus, loved a lot. The only thing that ticked me is the over-explanation of everything. The readers grow by figuring things out by themselves and I believe that is one of the reasons why kids love to read books. The thrill of solving a puzzle gives them a high.
The plot was good but I found it a bit generic. Even though the plot was gripping and will definitely hold a younger reader’s attention, I felt like there’s either something missing or there are too many plot devices at play. I don’t know if I’m making any sense? I just feel like this book had the potential to be something even better.
I want to congratulate the author specifically for the characterization as this was one of the most clever parts of the book. The author has crafted the character of the twelve-year-old protagonist, Rea Chhetri, quite brilliantly. Her emotions were portrayed just perfect. I could actually believe in the reality of that character and it was so easy to get into her shoes. She reminded me a bit of Lyra Silvertongue from His Dark Materials, especially how brave and curious these girls are. Moreover, the inner conflict in Rea was my favourite of all (especially at the end of the book).
Apart from Rea, all other characters were quite well done too. I felt that they were all very true to themselves. I was expecting Rea’s Baba to make an appearance. The part with Mishti Dadi was also quite tricky and I have to say that the mystery was held together till the end. The inclusion of parifolk made me jump with joy at times, to be honest. After Son Pari, this is the first time I’m coming across this species.
I was super stoked to see Indian elements in the setting of this book. The Sacred Som, the night of Nilaya, and the starting point of a hillside village in the Northeast region of India. I was expecting more of such, to be honest. And hence, I was quite a bit disappointed when more of Astranthia was revealed. Also, I think a bit more clarity on their journey would’ve been better. The destinations were pretty visual but their paths were not. I also keep wondering if a bit more brainstorming on the names of these places would’ve done something better or not. Lastly, this world reminded me a lot of the one in ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. Personally, I do not like flowery or glittery or vibrant worlds, LOL. That’s just my personal problem. But that doesn’t mean you won’t like it.
Throughout the length of the book, there’s a subtle play on the gender bias that we face in the Indian household. I especially loved that this issue was highlighted here, even though it wasn’t the main theme. It helped the characters become relatable. The bond of friendship, siblings, and family was the showrunner in this novel. And I must say, it was woven into the narrative beautifully. It was done with such dedication that reading became extremely effortless.
Quick Question: Have you read any Fantasy books by Indian authors or in an Indian setting? Please, recommend me some!