August 1st, 2014
The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda
So Libby is immersing herself in the world that is "Percy Jackson." Have to say Im a little jealous, because she knows Im a big fantasy buff, especially with the YA category. While Im attracted to the series, what steers me from it for the time being, is that it takes until the "Heroes of Olympus" for characters of color to be a main focus.
I was looking for a book series that gave me people of color of my heroes now!
It just so happened, as my sister was reading it, she fell upon this after researching whether there were books with fantastic elements with non-Western settings, and she suggested it to me, seeing how I typically connect with with South Asian characters(Being Afro-Cuban, we typically face and understand colorism, and my aunt's husband is originally from Northern India, so Im typically invested) I thought I'd give it a go.
I rarely say this, but this book is an AVATAR STATUS book. I don't easily distribute this term to any book. My favorite show of all time is "Avatar: The Last Airbender", and naturally I've fallen in love with "The Legend of Korra" as well. Many things have to be present for a book to even be in the same sentence as Avatar. A main character who is a person of color. A main character who gains amazing abilities, and a villain who is a worthy antagonist.
The Savage Fortress has all three!
The Savage Fortress follows the exploits of Ashoka Mistry, a British 13 year old, of Indian descent. He's visiting his aunt and uncle in India, and hating every minute of it. Until his uncle receives a job offer that changes his life, and everyone around him, forever.
I found the pacing worked well with the story. It's told in third person, but I was surprised that it doesnt take the humor away from the characters. I typically prefer first person, especially with a main character as funny as Ash, but it works well with the story. I think I really only struggled with the chapters that weren't present day. There are chapters told from a past life of Ash, and while they're obvious(written in italics)and short, I preferred the present time to the past, even though towards the end, the chapters with the past life cleared up many things for me.
The world-building is absolutely amazing. I already have an interest in Hinduism, mainly because there are many shared ideals in Buddhism(shout out to all the Buddhists)but I recognized many things I've learned about Hinduism in this book. I admit, I really cant say I know a whole lot, as there are many(I mean SOOOO many)gods in Hinduism, but I was so glad when it highlighted my favorite goddess Kali. I've read a series in the past/present whom had a different incarnation of Kali, but this book did her much better justice!
I was sitting at the edge of my seat what would happen with Ash, and how his story would conclude in the end!
I loved Ash. Im not British, a boy, 13 or of Indian descent, but Im basically Ash Mistry XD It should also be stated that he often gets referred to as the Indian "Percy Jackson." That couldn't be more wrong. He's just uniquely Ash Mistry, and in a league all his own.
There was great character development with Ash, and I related to him well, especially because he was so close to his sister, Lucky. I think what I loved about Ash most, was that he had to work at being a better hero, and even when he wasn't ready, he was still willing to risk himself to save his sister. One thing I was glad his character didn't overlook, was how he was seen, versus how he saw himself. As a person of color, you're almost never just "British." For my case, "American." You have to be Cuban-American, British-Indian, etc. You're British-ness can never be seen as the same thing in comparison to a white person's.
I was glad Ash didn't ignore he was seen as not quite one or the other, as in India, he was seen as very Western as well. He was too Indian to be English, and too English to be Indian, and that's feeling a lot of non-white, or first-second generation citizens feel, even when they born and raised in*insert country here.*
His backstory is awesome. While Ash is only 13 years old, he discovers *gasp* he is "The Eternal Warrior." Thus he has lived many lives over and over again(much like Avatar/LOK). So he's the human avatar sharing the one soul of many warriors, so essentially anyone we get a glimpse from the past with, is Ash, just from another life. The hero Rama, from the Hindu epic Ramayana, is the life The Savage Fortress focuses on, but in time, Ash will discover just how many others he's been.
Ash also gets points for being a martial artist! He ends up studying an ancient Indian martial art(commonly known now as Kalaripayattu)which is said to be one of the first martial art forms. Even though Ash starts a little chubby, he doesn't lose weight easily, he loses it through hard work. That may or may not please parents, but I find that fitness is one of the safer ways to lose weight, and martial arts I think is the best way for children to break out of their shells, and promote healthier lifestyles.
Lord Alexander Savage is the villain, and let me tell you, he provides the perfect amount of conflict. Even when I like a book, particularly in fantasy, my one complaint is always the villain. I like a villain to have goals, even if those goals make sense to them. It's one thing to take over the world. But what will you do with it once you have it? Lord Savage was a wealthy, self righteous, immortal sorcerer, whom lived his existence in agony. While he has immortality, he has yet to perfect it, so he ages with his immortality. Many of us couldn't imagine living past 120. Imagine living past 200! It's as if he's a corpse, barely holding on.
His goal is to rise the demon king Ravana, in exchange for his youth, and more power, but many of these goals are at the cost of Ash, his family, and many bystanders in India. But I liked Savage because he not only brought fear out of me, but also humanity. This is the right way to write a villain. If the dude is just twirling his mustache, cackling at the train tracks, what are his other goals? Their goals should mean something to them, and that is what I found refreshing about Lord Savage.
There really aren't any complaints with editing. It's an industry standard, and because it's short, it gets to the point without dragging on too much, but manages to still keep all the light, dark, and hilarious moments, so I have no issue with writing style. It's third person, and while I don't prefer it over first, it works well for the story.
I dont think I need to tell anyone that the diversity is on point. Ash is British of Indian descent, and since he is spending the summer in India, most likely every character expect for Lord Savage and a few of his goons are Indian. Ash and his sister Lucky are British, so their mannerism is much different than the Indian children they encounter(He even earns the nickname "English" for his Western mannerisms) and many of the characters they encounter let them know it.
The characters that should out the most were Parvati, the daughter of the demon king Ravana, Rishi, a sage whom became allied with Ash and Parvati, and John, a little Indian boy Ash and Lucky befriended living in a safe haven/hell. They were all different ages and different kinds of personalities.
Rishi was an old,yet buff XD powerful sage, who'd saved Ash too many times to count. Without giving too much plot away, he is able to give Ash the power he needs to make it to the end of the book. Parvati. There's a lot you can say about her. For one, she's the demon-human hybrid princess of Lanka. Much of her goals or intentions are unreadable, as she is a demon after all. But She and Ash share a common goal. To kill her father. For that she makes one of the most powerful ally for Ash, because she's likely to know his weaknesses. She's such a collected character, I was glad there was a balance of different kinds of femininity in The Savage Fortress.
Where Lucky was helpless(she's 11, give her a break)Parvati is strong, and is able to reach her goals on her own. Many of her choices are questionable, but there is a reason she remains to be a good ally to Ash.
John was a boy living in a safe house(amongst other children)that was technically the headquarters of a dangerous kingpin named Ujba. He was their only friend, and sacrificed a lot to help them. He didn't remember his real name, so was called John(for a reason I don't remember).
Since there are many different ages, personalities, and backgrounds of different characters, I found it was diverse in more terms than just race.
As far as the title of the book, it fits the story. It doesn't take long to discover why it is titled "The Savage Fortress." It's definitely eye catching! The cover is gorgeous, but I will say this. I would have preferred they show the faces of Ash and Lucky. Okay, so they're British-Indian? Okay....The white boy never has to hide his face for a cover. And while I know why they're faces are covered, it should be noted, that if I walked by this book, even in it's beauty, I may have thought the children were white. I wouldn't have given it a second look because of that.
Perhaps that makes it more marketable? But seeing people of color on the cover draws a reader like me in. I will instantly buy a book that has people of color on the cover, even if they aren't my race. Children of color are invisible everywhere else, they shouldn't have to be on books too.
The names are cool. I've seen Ashoka before in a book I read a few weeks back in an Indian-Steampunk setting. Im beginning to think it must be a common name, because my boss has a really similar name(He's Indian as well). I preferred the Indian names to the names like Jackie(a character on the antagonist side) but I did like Lord Alexander Savage. Seems fancy.
The character descriptions and place descriptions are clear. I think I got a good sense of how everyone looked, even if their appearance seemed odd to me. Many characters are rakshasas. Or demons in Indian/Hindu myth. But I think I pretty much got the picture.
So, what a ride right? I loved this book, and found a new favorite author out of it. I cant wait to get the third book, as I am reading the second and loving that even more!
Karan Brar as Ashoka Mistry
Rubina Ali as "Lucky" Mistry
Anisha Nagarajan as Parvati
Evil White Guy as Savage