Title: Rea and the Blood of the Nectar (The Chronicles of Astranthia #1)
Author: Payal Doshi
Publisher: Mango and Marigold Press
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Twins Rohan and Rea Chettri live with their Amma and maternal grandmother, Bajai, in Darjeeling. On the cusp of their 12th birthday, Rea is upset that her mother always seems to favour her brother over her. It’s bad enough that Rohan has more free time and less responsibilities than she does. Rea also finds out that Rohan, who rarely has any time for her these days, plans to celebrate their special day with a midnight cricket match played with his new friends.
When Rohan fails to return home after the cricket match, Rea can’t escape the thought that something bad has happened to him. In her nightmares, she keeps getting a message from Rohan that says, Find me or I die. Yet, strangely Amma and Bajai make no effort to look for him, acting as if they truly believe that he has gone forever.
Then Rea’s nightmares lead her and Leela deeper into the forest. Seeking the help of a local woman, Mishti Dadi, who knows magic, they are led through a portal that leads them into an enchanted world, Astranthia.
But the land is also home to the dreadful Queen, Razya. Will Rea and Leela be able to save Rohan? Or will they be trapped in this land forever?
The book was well written, creating the right kind of imagery with the description and the riot of colour. There was just enough detail to pull you into the story. The description of the phantom bus in Rea’s dream reminded me of Harry Potter in the Knight Bus.
The descriptions of Sanober forest and the fantastic kingdom of Astranthia evoked an otherworldly atmosphere. The author did a truly fantastic job with the world building.
It felt good to read an Indian story with an Indian protagonist, where young Indian kids might have the leisure of being able to understand without an explanation. The smattering of Indian words that peppered the narrative were fun to read.
Even though I’m no cricket fan, I enjoyed reading about the midnight match. It had the right blend of action, emotion and pace.
But beyond this, I had issues with parts of the writing. There were many awkward sentence constructions. Rea wanted to tell Amma she didn’t care and that she was welcome for helping her on a day when she had an extremely important plan to carry out.
Possessives were another problem. For ex, Meet outside our houses at 11.45 pm for Rohan and my birthday cricket match.
her and Rohan’s bedroom
Or does your intelligence match that of a six-year-old’s?
Another problem lay in the wide use of multi-syllabled words, unrequired in middle grade fiction. The Queen cachinnated in loud chuckles. Not only does the word, cachinnated, call attention to itself, it’s not something a middle grade child would be aware of. There are many such words strewn throughout the book, that make one feel that the author relied a little too much on her thesaurus.
The author has come out with a strong story. The indiscriminate use of big words weakens the prose.
At one point, Rea is described as having spots-clouding-your-vision anger which sounds colloquial and leads us straight out of the story. There were also several proofing issues in the Kindle edition that needed looking into.
Among the characters, we don’t really get a chance to get to know Rohan too well. But Rea gets an opportunity to emerge out of her own shadow and grow as an individual. At the beginning, she has no friends and is an average student at school, picked on by the mean girls. Feeling unloved by her mother and alienated from her twin brother, she makes for an unlikely hero.
I liked Leela from the beginning. Her act of rushing to Rea’s house from the principal’s office is a hoot. She is a solid friend, who takes her friendships seriously even though Rea doesn’t return the friendship for a long time. She lives up to a friendship that doesn’t yet exist in Rea’s eyes. The subplot of Rea being unable to reciprocate Leela’s loyalty and friendship was interesting.
Leela and Xeranther give Rea a much-needed lesson about friendship and loyalty.
This kid, Leela, deserves her own place in the sun. Her own mother forgets her name and no one in her very large joint family even notices that she’s been gone for three days – she’s a story waiting to be told.
It also seemed a little odd that no one from the village raised a hue and cry about the missing boy. In a real world, somebody ought to have complained to the police, unless that is a reflection on our society and how self-involved we have become.
One last issue. Towards the close, Xeranther reassures Rea, We are going to get him (Rohan) out, adding, I have an idea. But he doesn’t do anything about the rescue. Did the author forget?
Despite these issues, I liked the book, and I hope the author will come back with just as smashing a story for the second book in the series.
(I read this book through NetGalley. Thank you, NetGalley, the author and the publisher.)