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Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi is a book that leans heavily on Rick Riordan’s charming formula. Sadly, it decided to lean not against the solidity of Riordan’s characterization and deft story telling, but against an insubstantial something that allows the story to fall flat on its face time and time again. Riordan’s shoes are big. Maybe they are too big to fill.

It may seem unfair to compare Aru Shah and the End of Time to Lightning Thief, but trust me when I say it owes everything to that book. I wanted Aru Shah to be amazing. I wanted it to be the book that definitively ended my reading slump. I wanted it to be good from the first to the last drop. It wasn’t any of those things because while the book copied Riordan’s formula it did it only half as well. Where Riordan’s writing beautifully balances the sass and the substance, Aru Shah focused heavily on the sass, so I needed to search for substance. I champion girl power every chance I get, so I wanted to love this book. I celebrate when we move beyond the Western “classics” to rightfully include the myths, legends, stories, and truths of brown people, but before Aru Shah could start that party, I needed it to stop putting me to sleep.

The opening 70 pages are both painful and boring. You would think something painful would keep a person from falling asleep, but alas no. I found myself reading and re-reading page after page because I just wasn’t interested enough or invested enough to retain the information I was being given. It isn’t that the style was boring because it really did copy Riordan. The problem was the opening third of the book was just Riordanesque joke after Riodanesque joke. Enough! Instead of dashes of sass and whiffs of snark you are doused in them and emerge smelling like the Axe-scented inside of a middle school locker room. It isn’t appealing or charming or come hither. It’s downright unpleasant; it’s like being bitten by fire ants or wrestling a bear with fleas. Every sentence is a quip. And while that style is tolerable when reading a few hundred words it becomes irksome after a few thousand. There are moments when Aru Shah reads like the first draft of a really terrible Lightning Thief inspired creative writing assignment that was thrown together on Sunday at midnight because it’s due at 8 am on Monday. Then things got better. Sort of.

During the second third, the book doubled down on being an homage to Riordan. In fact, it screamed, “OMG! The Lightning Thief is so so so incredibly amazing!! I want to write a book exactly like that. Well, except I want mine to have Hindu gods and goddesses and demons, but every rule that Riordan came up with, because he’s the master, I’m totally going to adopt, so it’ll be the same, but different, but the same.” Surprisingly, I was okay with that because imitation done well is flattery, but imitation done poorly is a bit gross. I was in the zone. Aru was in the zone. Then things got boring again, and once again Queen Mab had me in her thrall. I was half convinced the pages were covered in crushed sleeping pills that I was inhaling with every turn of the page. I can’t even begin to estimate how many times this book put me to sleep. Then things got better and they stayed better.

Should I talk about the better? I don’t really want to, and I have another post to write, so this calls for a very short list of the better.

  • The ending was perfectly perfect. I’m actually excited for the next book.

  • The Freudian issue were telegraphed from a mile away, but I can’t lie, the payoff was captivating. It’s that old trope of I want you to love me, but you’re a monster. Or are you?!

  • The mother–daughter, sister-sister, parent-child relationships

  • Mysterious person with mysterious abilities? Tell me more.

  • Wait, was that a wolf?! Are you friends with Fenrir?

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