Game of Stars by Sayantani Dasgupta
Published by Scholastic on February 26, 2019. Hardcover of 384 pages at $17.99, E-Book at $10.99, and Audio CD at $34.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 5 – 7.
Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.
The cover: At the top of a vividly colored violet sky, Kiranmala is on the tail of a snake that’s wrapped around itself, with the serpent’s mouth open in the bottom left corner, ready to devour the young protagonist. The hero is spotlighted by a moon behind her, making her the focal point. To her left and right, barely visible, are several young girls flying through the sky on skateboards. The top features a blurb from Tui T. Sutherland, with the author of this book’s name below it. At the bottom third is the book’s title and the subtitle just under it. Several bees can be see flying about the bottom half of the title, almost swarming it. A gorgeous cover by Vivienne To that teases much of what’s in this book. The design of the cover is by Elizabeth B. Parisi. Overall grade: A+
The premise: From the back cover, “When the Demon Queen shows up in her bedroom, smelling of acid and surrounded by evil-looking bees, twelve-year-old Kiranmala is uninterested. After all, it’s been four months since she last heard from her friends in the Kingdom Beyond, the alternate dimension where she was born an Indian princess. But after a call to action over an interdimensional television station and a visit with some all-seeing birds, Kiran decides that she has to once again return to her homeland, where society is fraying and her friends are in danger. However, things are a lot less clear than the last time she was in the Kingdom Beyond. Kiran must battle witches, solve riddles, and avoid her evil Serpent King father — all while figuring out who her true friends are and what it really means to be a demon.” I’m all for reading a story that features Indian mythology. I know very little of it, but find the imagery I’ve seen from Indian tales incredible. Any stories that feature this subject matter I’m very open to. Having it be in a children’s novel is extremely interesting to me. I haven’t read the first book, so I’m hoping that this doesn’t hurt my enjoyment of the book. Overall grade: A-
The characters: The main character is twelve-year-old Kiranmala. She knows she has abilities after her adventures in The Serpent Force. She’s been waiting for someone in the Kingdom Beyond to contact her, but she’s heard nothing and gotten despondent. When she hears about him and his situation she wants to save him and will do anything to free him. She’s a focused child, very much of her age, with strong opinions and the desire to do right by all. She was engaging on every page she appeared. The friend she’s wanting to hear from is Neelkamal, the son of the Demon Queen. He obviously likes her and she him, but they’re twelve and would never admit that to each other. He’s being held prisoner, bait to get Kiran to compete in Who Wants To Be A Demon Slayer? She doesn’t care about the competition, she just wants to save him. When the two are reunited, it was very enjoyable and I like their relationship. The first antagonist, or perceived villain, is the Demon Queen. I won’t spoil her description, but it’s fantastic. Her voice is a joy and her multiple, incomplete appearances at the beginning of the book are fantastic. She appears sporadically throughout the book and when she does it’s wonderful. The main antagonist is Sesha, the Serpent King, Kiran’s father. He’s the one that’s captured Neel to lure his daughter back to him so he can get revenge for what she and Neel did to him in the previous book. He’s a pretty clownish villain and not one that would frighten anyone except with his true appearance. He was okay, but the other fantastic characters that Kiran encounters in this book were much more entertaining. I was especially fond of Bangoma and Bangomee. It’s not a good sign when supporting characters are more interesting than the big bad of the book. Overall grade: B
The settings: The book starts in New Jersey, with Kiran’s house and school, and then moves to the Kingdom Beyond for the rest of the book. The locations in the real world are believable, with her school strong. The Kingdom Beyond has a lot going on. A. Lot. What isn’t shown? There are so many settings there isn’t more than two chapters in one location before being running off to the next locale. I wanted the book to stay in locations for longer so that they could be fully explored, but Kiran is under the gun to get to Neel in a certain amount of time. I found myself forgetting a setting two scenes earlier because so little time is spent there. That said, what is stated is great, but slowing things down would have helped immensely. Overall grade: C+
The action: This book is never dull, to say the least. It doesn’t stay in one place very long once Kiran has entered the Kingdom Beyond. There’s always something that sends her off to the next location where there’s some new type of foe to fight. It’s so fast paced, in fact, that I lost track of where I’ve been. As with the settings, I wish that the book had slowed down to take a moment before moving on, but it seemed that never happened. I never thought I would say a book was going to fast, but this book did for me. This might be a non-issue for younger readers, for whom the book was intended, but I lost track as to what had been gained and lost to get to the climax. Overall grade: C+
The conclusion: Things wrap up well with the door left wide open for more adventures. Overall grade: B
The Author’s Notes: There are twelve pages that follow the story that explain where Dasgupta got the inspiration for many elements of this story, such as creatures, food, and culture. This was very interesting, but I found myself not remembering where these things were in the original text. Overall grade: B
The artwork: There are several illustrations throughout the book by Vivienne To that look great. However, this being an uncorrected proof, a majority of the artwork was missing from my copy. That said, what was present looked great and I found myself wishing I could have seen them all. Overall grade: A
The final line: A book that moves so quickly I lost track of characters, settings, and actions. Slowing things down would have made the book more memorable. This is an extremely fast paced adventure through a fantasy world of Indian characters. I liked the hero and would welcome another tale involving Kiran and her friends. Enjoyable, but really, really fast. Overall grade: B-