The Savage Fortress, by Sarwat Chadda (Scholastic, 2012, middle grade/YA)*--in which an Anglo-Indian boy of no particular talents (except at computer gaming) must use the power of Kali, Goddess of Death, to take down Ravana, the legendary Demon King!
Ash Mistry had been looking forward to his visit to his uncle in India. But after three weeks of heat and people and confusion, home in England has never looked so good...but he's not going to get to go back any time soon. Instead, he has to save the world from an evil sorcerer, a wealthy Englishman named Lord Savage, who is scheming to reawaken Ravana, the demon king. If Ravana returns, he will bring utter annihilation.
The chance (?) find of a golden arrowhead sets Ash on the path to becoming the one hero who can stop Lord Savage and his demonic henchmen. But Ash isn't at all sure that he is hero material. It's not until his little sister is kidnapped by the enemy that he steels himself to fulfill his destiny--to use the golden arrowhead to finish the job that the great hero king Rama started millennia ago, and destroy Ravana once and for all.
Fortunately, Ash has help, from the beautiful half-demon Pavarti who will fight at his side, and from Rashti, a mysterious old man who gains him entry into a secretive school where he will be taught to fight. But he has more than that--he has the golden arrowhead was a gift to Rama from Kali, goddess of death. To use it is to invite Kali into his very soul, but when faced with an army of demons, the imminent destruction of the world, (and the danger his own little sister is in), what choice does he have?
Ash, at first, is not the most likable protagonist--he's rather a sullen adolescent type, not displaying many sterling character traits. And the book starts rather slowly. But as it becomes clear just how nasty a piece of work Lord Savage is, people start dying, demons start being demonic, and Ash accepts his fate, the fast paced action and violence of his adventures makes it almost irrelevant what Ash's particular character is like--the story (an a very exciting one it is) has taken over.
Far more interesting is the character of Parvati, the half demon teenager. Her motivations and her conflicts are deeply rooted in the history of all her many reincarnated lives. She is fierce, and very kick ass, and yet emotionally vulnerable, and although I was mildly pleased that Ash made it through his adventures, it was Parvati I was really anxious about!
The Savage Fortress is an excellent book for those looking for a rather thrilling fantasy questy/adventure, set far outside the tropes of Europe. With its violence, which is rather gruesome at times (demons are messy eaters), and which includes upfront deaths, and its tremendously high stakes, it won't be for every young reader. But for the slightly older Rick Riordan fan (yes, I know "Rick Riordan" has almost become a cliche, but I think it's true) this might very well be a good fit. I put both middle grade and YA labels on this one--the perfect reader (if such a thing exists) is probably about 12 or 13.
Bonus feature: go check out the Ash Mistry website, where you'll find lots more about the characters and the mythology.
Archaeology bonus: a nice little introduction (more of a teaser than an educational treatise, but still) to the Harrapan civilization
Other reviews: The Book Smugglers -- "Brilliantly done and definitely a highlight of my reading year so far."
Book Lust -- "I found it to be a much deeper read than I expected, and I really
appreciate Chadda's willingness to bring to light both the positives and
negatives of Indian culture. Definitely looking forward to more in
Final side note: Fans of Chadda's books about Billi SanGreal (Dark Goddess and The Devil's Kiss) will be pleased to see those stories obliquely referenced.
Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher
*first published in the UK as Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress