Book Review: The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

the savage fortress cover

View from the window seat:
Ash Mistry is over India. He longs to return to his home in London, but he still has a few weeks left visiting his aunt and uncle with his younger sister Lucky. His uncle is offered millions to translate ancient scrolls for the rich and mysterious Lord Savage. This could be his uncle’s big break, something that could change his career and all of their lives, but Ash just doesn’t feel right about it. Aside from Savage’s sinister staff, something more seems to be going on. When Ash accidentally finds an arrowhead with indescribable power, he’s forced to go on the run as Savage and his forces seek the arrowhead. Ash needs to become the hero he’s destined to be or all of reality will be lost.

Many familiar fantasy tropes can be found in The Savage Fortress: a boy destined for heroism, a power-hungry villian, the end of civilization. However, the mythology of India interwoven throughout the story made this a fresh take on the teenage-boy-fated-to-save-the-world plot. The Hindu gods and the rakshasas (demon shapeshifters) are really excellent. The gods are portrayed as above good and evil and powerful entities, but still afraid of the demon king Ravana. The gods require different sacrifices for humans to use their powers, and Ash discovers just how high a price he has to pay to save the world. The rakshasas are dangerous and violent, but not all are evil. Parvati, a serpent shapeshifter, joins Ash in his quest to stop the rise of Ravana.

While this is a MG book, reminiscent of Rick Riordan’s series, there is much more darkness in The Savage Fortress. Ravana can bend reality, and he tortures humans into grotesque creatures. The rakshasas working for Lord Savage kill and devour mercilessly. The frank violence and sometimes disturbing imagery actually surprised me, but I actually found it kind of refreshing from the usual PG versions of various myths that I’m used to. The author doesn’t shy away from the dark natures of the rakshasas and the gods.

Ash too discovers darkness inside himself as he takes on more and more of a god’s power. Ash is a likable hero, convinced that he can’t do anything to help. He struggles with his destiny, at times wanting to just return home and forget everything in India. But when the time comes, he rises to the occasion, and finds that it changes him. Whether the change will be good or bad will hopefully be explored further in later books.

Overall impression:
The Savage Fortress combines adventure with the mythology of India in a dark and thrilling story of a boy becoming a hero.

Rating:
7

Note: I received this ARC from the publisher at the 2012 ALA Annual Conference.

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