title: The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Secret Kingdom series)
author: Sayantani Dasgupta
date: Scholastic, 2018
main character: Kiranmala
While Meghan Markle is able to become a princess only through marriage, Kiranmala really is a princess! Her parents have told her this all her life, but until events that you’ll have to read to believe actually happen to her, she thinks her parents are just very elaborate storytellers.
Kiranmala is living in New Jersey when she turns 12. This fateful age unleashes rakkhosh demons upon her home and her parents can’t explain why because they’ve been kidnapped. When princes Lal and Neel appear from another dimension to help Kiranmala find her parents, she begins to make sense of the stories that she’s heard all of her life. These stories help save her. This message comes naturally to author Sayantani Dasgupta who researches the role of stories in healthcare. Here, she draws from traditional stories told in West Bengal, India to build the Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers and all it’s royalty, demons and rakkhosh.
She takes Kiranmala on a bit of a hero’s journey to find her parents. Although the princes accompany her, Kiranmala fights her own battles and solves her own riddles, puzzles and life-threatening situations. I particularly enjoyed seeing a young girl who was completely empowered, yet there was space in her story for romance, giving the reader the message that “strong” can still be awfully cute.
This is Dasgupta’s first middle grade novel. She manages to incorporate humor into to her story that is political, current and age appropriate. This adds to the pace of the book. We know that most of the characters in the book are a generic brown, obfuscating colorism. Almost. There are horses, one white and one black. The white horse “was gentle and responded right away to my touch. A good ways ahead, Neel’s black horse – whom I’d started to think of as Midnight- bucked and snorted as he galloped in the air.” (p.49-50) It’s just too easy to see white as good and black as bad. Even if it’s done with horses, it sends a message to readers.
Despite that slip, Dasgupta writes a tale that challenges her readers to solve the mystery, to suspend 2 dimensional reality and to “believe more in demonic violence prevention and restorative justice than actual demon slaying.” (p. 168)