Review: The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

Hello everyone, here’s my review for the first book I’ve read for my first Asian Redathon! This ticks the prompt Read a book with an Asian character.

In addition, it is also my first time to read an MG audiobook on Spotify! Thank you very much to @bookstagramrepresent for compiling a list of Spotify audiobooks. Although this list is based on Spotify US, all of them are also available in my region.

Publication Information

  • Date of Publication: 27 February 2018
  • Publisher: Scholastic Kids
  • Series: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1
  • Age Category: Middle Grade
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Cover Art: Vivienne To
  • Cover Design: Elizabeth Parisi

Goodreads || StoryGraph || Readerly || Amazon

About the book

MEET KIRANMALA: INTERDIMENSIONAL DEMON SLAYER
(Only she doesn’t know it yet.)

On the morning of her twelfth birthday, Kiranmala is just a regular sixth grader living in Parsippany, New Jersey… until her parents mysteriously vanish and a drooling rakkhosh demon slams through her kitchen, determined to eat her alive. Turns out there might be some truth to her parents’ fantastical stories-like how Kiranmala is a real Indian princess and how she comes from a secret place not of this world.

To complicate matters, two crush-worthy princes ring her doorbell, insisting they’ve come to rescue her. Suddenly, Kiran is swept into another dimension full of magic, winged horses, moving maps, and annoying, talking birds. There she must solve riddles and battle demons all while avoiding the Serpent King of the underworld and the Rakkhoshi Queen in order to find her parents and basically save New Jersey, her entire world, and everything beyond it…

On-page representation: Author of color (Indian), diaspora (second-generation Indian-American), Indian mythology-inspired worldbuilding, foster families, biracial-coded representation

Trigger and content warnings: kidnapping, violence, gore, racial microaggressions, immigration-related legal problems, discrimination against biracial-coded characters, emotional abuse (parental neglect, gaslighting, and favoritism)


Review

The Serpent’s Secret is a super funny intergalactic romp through a universe based on Indian mythology. Kiranmala and her new friends battle demons and solve riddles while confronting difficult questions about their heritage, family, and sense of belongingness.

At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss it as another book that follows Percy Jackson’s footsteps, but the vibe ends there. Although the story does begin in Parsippany, New Jersey–“where wide tarred roads stretched on and on and where no one can take a left turn”–it does not employ the signature Riordan style of embedding ancient gods in every imaginable aspect of modern-day cities. Instead, DasGupta whisks the readers away from the nonmagical world into the wondrous cosmology of Indian mythology.

I love that the book is not afraid to discuss very real and difficult themes without reducing their substance. For instance, Kiran reflects on the injustice of current immigration systems as she tries to evade being punished for not fulfilling certain legal requirements in order to leave the human realm. She and Neel also have several conversations about “bad blood”: does one’s race or parentage predispose someone to evil?

Navigating complex family dynamics in Indian society is also presented in all its flaws and glory, and I love how it is lovingly tied in with discussions on foster families, adoption, and meetups with biological parents. At the heart of all of this is the adults’ desire to keep the children safe, and even if they do nor accompany Kiran and the princes on their journeys, many of them are shown as a strong and reliable support system.

Kiranmala also has many musings on her experience as a diaspora Asian, most of which I can relate with. I love reading her thoughts about her parents’ pride in the Quickie Mart they own and in their attempts to keep her connected with her heritage. As a second-generation Indian American, Kiran often butts heads with her parents in an effort to avoid racial microaggressions at school or in the community, but she soon learns to love and accept the multiplicity of identities she holds. Experiencing all of this with Kiranmala got me through my own recent struggles with being a diaspora Filipino, and I wish this book existed when I was ten or twelve.

The language and tone make it fun for middle-school reader. The material here can probably fill at least two joke books, and the turns of phrase are very relatable. Although Kiranmala gets lots of flak for her cringeworthy jokes, I actually like them! Yes, even the OWL-gebra one! And yes, that was my favorite! Please don’t judge my idea of humor.

In addition, I also love that the book weaves in several concepts that middle school readers may have encountered in their own lectures and textbooks. Kiranmala often quotes Shady Sadie the Science Lady documentaries–a riff on Bill Nye the Science Guy–for astronomy concepts. Even boring units on homophones can come in handy when slaying intergalactic demons.

I would also like to commend the author for doing such a wonderful job of narrating her own book. She makes the characters feel so vibrant and relatable, and I can’t imagine reading the chanting and singing without an audio reference. The audiobook is so perfect for a beautiful, immersive storytelling experience, and if you can read along with a book in hand, you’re in for a wild ride. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series in the same way.

The only downside to a solely audiobook experience is I can’t spell the characters’ names nor know what to Google whenever I come across an unfamiliar mythological reference.

The only thing that kept me from giving this book a full 5 stars is the pacing. Some legs of the quest feel too long or a bit of a detour, and the extended journey left me a bit frustrated. I do, however, appreciate that the trip helped me encounter more food and other cultural icons that probably wouldn’t have been present had Kiran gone straight to the needed destination.

Overall, I LOVE this book, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series! The whole Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond trilogy is already out, and Sayantani DasGupta has a new book, The Force of Fire, out on June 1!


Let’s chat:

  • Have you read this book yet? I would love to hear your thoughts!
  • How does an audiobook narrator affect your enjoyment of a book? Also, how to spell character names πŸ˜…
  • Do you have other audiobook recs available on Spotify? PLEASE comment them πŸ₯ΊπŸ‘‰πŸ‘ˆ

10 thoughts on “Review: The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta”

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