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?
About the Author
Payal Doshi has a Masters in Creative Writing (Fiction) from The New School, New York. She was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two-year-old daughter. 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. Twitter: @payaldwrites Instagram: @payaldoshiauthor Website: www.payaldoshiauthor.com
Book Review by Shakirah Bourne
“Legends are not silly. They are truths of times past, woven into stories. You may not believe them, but that does not make them untrue. Through legends, ancient wisdom lives. Without them, we would fade into oblivion.”
Rea and the Blood of the Nectar may be suited for fans of the Aruh Shah and Chronicles of Narnia series, but it’s definitely perfect for those who love engaging stories full of legends, creatures and mythos, taking place in non-Western settings.
Twelve year-old Rea seems to live in the shadow of her twin brother, Rohan. Unlike Rea, who is a loner and very frustrated by gender roles forced upon her by her Amma and Bajai, Rohan seems to be the preferred child who can do no wrong for their doting family, is popular at school and prefers to celebrate their birthday alone with his friends, rather than with his own flesh and blood. When Rea discovers Rohan has planned a secret midnight cricket game, she crashes the event and thanks to her amazing bowling skills, steals victory from Rohan’s team. There are few books that highlight the game of cricket, much less scenes where girls dominate the game, so I was hooked and rooting for Rea from the very first chapter.
After Rea gleefully watches Rohan disappear into the darkness in defeat, he never comes home from the cricket match. Her Amma and Bajai quickly lose hope that Rohan will return, but Rea is too stubborn and plagued with guilt to give up so easily. She reluctantly seeks help in her free-spirited and kind neighbor, Leela, and they visit a fortune-teller who gives clues about Rohan’s location, which lead them through a banyan tree portal, and into the magical world of Astranthia. As the story progresses, Rea must learn to come to terms with her impulsive and at times, selfish behaviour, in order to overcome several physical and emotional obstacles in Astranthia to save her brother.
Young readers are going to enjoy both the real and otherworldly settings, and Doshi’s ability to bring setting to life through her vivid writing and careful observations. You don’t need to have travelled to Darjeeling in India to get a sense of the chaos of the markets, the hustle of the hawkers, or the atmosphere on the tea plantations, and her descriptions of the food makes you want to lick the pages. The clothing, people and their mannerisms are richly-painted on the page, and this continues in the journey into Astranthia, where she beautifully crafts the familiar and the unexpected, showing how nature is entwined in Astranthia’s world, where women braid vines into their hair, fabrics made of stems and flowers, serpent lilies sink boats and walls that literally whisper secrets.
One of the standout qualities in this novel was the adept handling of themes such as selflessness, complicated family dynamics and sibling rivalry. It’s difficult for Rea to deal with constantly being compared to Rohan, and though it’s clear that she loves him and seeks his attention and approval, she harbors feelings of intense (and understandable) jealousy. As she learns of new deception from her loved ones about her identity, she has to grapple with those feelings of betrayal as well. Rea needs to learn to put faith in others, learn how to be a friend and do what is right, despite the consequences. The stakes are high and the story fast-paced and action-packed–this is an exciting adventure up until the very last page.
Thank you to the publisher, Mango & Marigold Press, for the eARC! There’s an excellent set-up for the next book in the series and I can’t wait to read more of Rea’s adventures in this world.
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Shakirah Bourne is a Barbadian author, filmmaker, and lover of ripe mangoes. She has written and produced four movies, including a comedy that she filmed during an earthquake and in a cave with bats. She currently resides in Barbados, where she spends way too much time daydreaming and looking out at the sea. Twitter: @shakirahwrites