By: Sarwat Chadda
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Genre: Young Adult
“We have been reminded that the only thing that truly matters is keeping our loved ones safe, and that our heroes are often society’s underdogs” Sarwat Chadda
City of the Plague God is a beautiful fantasy that combines the gods of Mesopotamia with present day Muslim culture in New York. Two teenagers embark on a quest to save the city, and ultimately, the world from the god, Nergal, from resuming his immortal strength and bringing death and plague upon the people. I loved this book and many times it brought me to tears.
Mr. Chadda has brilliantly told a fantasy about the Mesopotamian gods, their presence here and the teenagers who must deal with the consequences of this presence. In addition to the fantasy element, is the present-day struggle of a family of Iraqi immigrants. He writes about stereotyping, cultural misunderstandings and a bit of school bullying. This was just as important as the fantasy, and they were blended together flawlessly.
City of the Plague God, with its beautiful cover artwork, is part of the Rick Riordan Present’s Series.
Summary (from Goodreads)
Thirteen-year-old Sik wants a simple life going to school and helping at his parents’ deli in the evenings. But all that is blown to smithereens when Nergal comes looking for him, thinking that Sik holds the secret to eternal life. Turns out Sik is immortal but doesn’t know it, and that’s about to get him and the entire city into deep, deep trouble.
Sik’s not in this alone. He’s got Belet, the adopted daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, on his side, and a former hero named Gilgamesh, who has taken up gardening in Central Park. Now all they have to do is retrieve the Flower of Immortality to save Manhattan from being wiped out by disease. To succeed, they’ll have to conquer sly demons, treacherous gods, and their own darkest nightmares.
The World of City of the Plague God
The vast majority of the book takes place in New York City. As mentioned in the summary, Nergal is seeking the key to immortality. The world building takes place when Sik must travel to the afterlife. The author paints a rich picture of heaven, with the Sea of Tiamat, underwater caves and the serenity for those who have passed.
Gilgamesh, the Mesopotamian hero, lives in a hidden greenhouse in Central Park. He has given up violence for his quieter life. I enjoyed this part of the hidden greenhouse. It was a clever way to incorporate the hero without having be an all powerful being to “save the day.”
I found all of the main characters to be well developed with a complete story arc.
Sik is a 13-year-old boy who works at his family’s deli. He dreams of going on adventures like his brother and leaving the city behind. Sik is devoted to his parents and knows that he is needed to help the family business. When Nergal attacks his family and all that he loves, while he is terrified, he rises to become a hero and find the Flower of Immortality. He has a quick wit and sense of humor, making him a lovable and relatable character.
Belet, the adopted daughter of the goddess Ishtar, is a strong young female lead. She reluctantly joins Sik, but would rather be on her own. Belet is brash, tough and has little patience for Sik at first. They are opposite in personality, but eventually do work together. Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, loved her, raised her and, trained her to become a warrior. Eventually, she and Sik become friends during their quest to save the city.
Daoud is a close family friend. He is Sik’s “cousin.” While not as major a character, he plays an important role. Daoud wants to be an actor, but his roles are limited. Sik cannot understand why he is satisfied taking stereotypical roles of a terrorist or henchman. Sik asks Daoud when he will play a hero. Mr. Chadda does not hold back when he tells Sik that people like them don’t get to play the hero. Why, asks Sik-because you are Arab or Muslim. Daoud simply says “take your pick”. It’s an important moment.
This book was excellent. There were so many layers to it. The fantasy element of the quest to find the Flower of Immortality and dealing with the gods of Mesopotamia was a fantastic and wonderful story. It’s one of the first fantasy books I have read that included these gods, so I learned quite a bit.
The other element, that one could say may be just as important, is the cultural aspect. I love the way Mr. Chadda points out the stereotyping of the Muslim and Arab community. He uses Muslim words throughout the story. We see a picture of a family just like any other. A family that loves, a family that struggles and a family that knows loss. Books can teach us so many things. We can’t deny the issues that Mr. Chadda points out in City of the Plague God. What we can do is learn. We can learn about other cultures. Cultures that are often painted in a negative way because of our lack of understanding.
While Sik and his family are Iraqi immigrants, they are a normal family. That normalcy is so important to read. Why? Because it shows us that the more we learn, the less we judge. The more we learn, the less we fear. The more we learn, the more we love. City of the Plague God is a fantasy with a message. A story of culture, love, family and loss. But ultimately the importance of being there and taking care of those we love.
You can find his book on Rick Riordan’s Presents website: https://rickriordan.com/rick-riordan-presents/
Sarwat Chadda’s Official Website: http://sarwatchadda.blogspot.com/
You can purchase City of the Plague God on Amazon
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