ARC Review: Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi

Are you in the mood for a quest that has family, friendship, and magic at its core? I recently enjoyed Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, which weaves all three elements into a fantastic adventure with ownvoices Indian representation and setting!

After reading Gauri’s glowing review of it and finding out that it’s on “Read Now” in Netgalley, I immediately downloaded it and devoured it in hours!

About the Book

Perfect for fans of the Aru Shah books and The Chronicles of Narnia.

A middle-grade fantasy about twelve-year-old Rea Chettri, who portals into an otherworldly realm to go on a secret quest to find her missing twin brother Rohan. The clock is ticking in this fast-paced, thrilling, and exciting adventure rife with evil creatures, a ruthless villain, and unforgettable friendships.

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?

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is Payal Doshi’s stunning #ownvoices middle-grade fantasy debut about understanding complex family dynamics, fighting for what is right, discovering oneself, and learning to make friends.

Publication information

  • Publication date: 15 June 2021
  • Publisher: Mango and Marigold Press
  • Length: 350 pages
  • Age category: Middle Grade
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Cover Art: Bev Johnson
  • Pre-order links:

On-page representation: all-Indian characters and setting, ownvoices author (Indian)

Trigger and content warnings: family favoritism and neglect, parent death (off-page), bullying, harsh punishments for laborers

Review

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love MG books even though I have long aged past their target market because they are not afraid to discuss difficult and sensitive topics in life without taking away the fun, adventure, and magic. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar is a great example of that, and it shows in the love and attention given to developing the themes and characters.

The book is set in Darjeeling, India, and it shows much of the descriptions is deeply drawn from the author’s experiences. Although I have never been to India, I can practically ride the train home with Amma and Rea or smell all the goodness from Bajai’s kitchen. The descriptions are very immersive, and it helps to see what the world looks like a few timezones away.

Unlike many modern MG fantasies, this is not set in a city but rather in villages where work in tea plantations strongly influence the local economy and daily lifestyle. Though not overtly discussed, it does not shy away from depictions of backbreaking labor involved in picking tea leaves and harsh punishments for minor infractions. This is also mirrored in the kindred realm of Astranthia, where the workers strain under the selfish interests of the Queen, and in the character of Xeranther, who struggles for the rights of his people. I love how these scenes and themes–with the help of a few guide questions–can open up discussions about labor rights and humane treatment.

It is in this beautiful yet deeply flawed backdrop that we meet Rea and her family members. I love how well her character is written, and her struggles of fighting for recognition within her family and bearing the weight of expectations for women and girls are very relatable. Who here hasn’t felt overshowed by a sibling? Who hasn’t complained about girls are forced to grow up faster? Rea’s pains are given care and nuance, and I love how the author makes sure that her voice is loud and clear enough to speak for herself the way she has never been given space before.

I also love how friendships are treated in this book. As someone who has always struggled with making friends, I totally relate with Rea and Leela’s awkward dance around the word “friend”: are we really friends, or do we simply have no choice but to stay with each other? This feels so real and raw, and I’m happy that an MG book like this does not take a squad or a friend for granted because not everyone is born with one. I am so proud to witness Rea and Leela learning to depend on each other and to see them open up themselves to even more people whom they have learned to trust and call friends.

One minor thing that I also appreciate in this book ia the whole chapter devoted to Rea and Leela’s sleuthing! I’m ao happy to see them use several variations of the Facts-Assumptions-Inferences table for their investigation notes! I love how the boring worksheets we have to do for school are used in a totally different and much more fun way. Yes to good representation of homework activity sheets!

However, I had a bit of hard time with the pacing. There were a lot of information dumps which sometimes slowed the action or made me impatient for the next scene. Though the lore is useful for understanding how Astranthian society works, it can sometimes be quite dragging. I understand that this is the first book in the series, so all the details might probably be key plot points in future books!

Overall, I really liked this book, and I’m excited to follow the rest of the series!

About the Author

Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School, New York. Having lived in the UK and US, she noticed a lack of Indian protagonists in global children’s fiction and one day wrote the opening paragraph to what would become her first children’s novel. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two-year-old daughter. When she isn’t writing or spending time with her family, you can find her nose deep in a book with a cup of coffee or daydreaming of fantasy realms to send her characters off into. She loves the smell of old, yellowed books. Rea and the Blood of the Nectar,the first book in the Chronicles of Astranthia series is her debut middle grade novel.

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Let’s chat!

  1. Have you read any work by a South Asian author lately? Drop your recs below!
  2. Are you excited for this book too?

4 thoughts on “ARC Review: Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi”

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