By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Aru Shah and the Nectar of Immortality
By Roshani Chokshi
Rick Riordan Presents, 2022
Aru Shah and the Potatoes are back, and they need to stop—once and for all—the Sleeper’s plan to gain access to the nectar of immortality and, as a result, infinite power. The Pandavas only have until the next full moon (about two weeks), but after losing their celestial weapons, Aru, Mini, and Brynne have no idea how they can even hope to defeat him.
In Chokshi’s final installment of her Pandavas quintet, we see Aru and her friends continue to fight, even when they feel all has been lost. Along their quest, they call on old friends for help, meet new allies, and face trials like never before—including performing in a rock concert at the end of the world (because, why not?). This is a story about perseverance, especially when it seems like there’s no hope.
As readers of this column would know, I am a longtime fan of Aru and her adventures. So while it was bittersweet to see it all come to an end, Chokshi brings everything to a satisfying end, from the ultimate Potatoes’ quest that everything has been leading up to, to the relationships we’ve all been wanting to see finally coming to fruition. It’s been a long journey and I’ve loved seeing Aru and company grow and evolve individually and as a team. Aru has gone from a young tween who would lie her way through life to get people to like her, to a young adult who learns to do what she believes is right, no matter what others (including literal gods) think.
Throughout the series, an ongoing theme has been the trustworthiness and reliability of adults and supposed figures of authority, especially parents. This final installment continues this and highlights the complicated relationships between parents and children. While it’s no surprise to read about Aru’s relationship with her Sleeper father, and some of the other Potatoes and their parents, Chokshi shows how these relationships don’t become less complicated as we get older.
Kamila Knows Best
By Farah Heron
Kamila Hussain’s life is great. She hosts weekly Bollywood movie parties for her friends, her dog has tons of Instagram followers, and she works with her father at a job she loves. With all of this, and friends who clearly need help with their love lives, Kamila doesn’t have time to think about romance for herself.
But then there’s Rohan Nasser, Kamila’s longtime friend—successful, good looking, and always there for Kamila. Rohan has always put up with her “harmless flirting,” but lately, it doesn’t feel as harmless as Rohan has started flirting back.
As Kamila takes on more responsibilities at work and through her volunteer work—with the hopes that others will take her more seriously—it’s starting to show that her perfectly ordered life is starting to unravel and turn upside down.
In this retelling of “Emma,” Heron takes Jane Austen’s famous matchmaker and brings her into the modern world. Kamila is a strong protagonist, though I’ll admit, I initially judged her harshly for her love of parties and obsession with social media. Though maybe that was Heron’s intention, as there are moments when Kamila calls out other characters for doing just that and I realized I was just as guilty. It was quite the lesson in not judging a book by its cover.
While “Kamila” is categorized as a romance, its original source material isn’t—which may confuse some readers who are looking for more in terms of Kamila and Rohan’s relationship.
But personally, I was okay with that. I enjoyed reading about Kamila’s relationship with her father. She’s very devoted to her father and so much of what Kamila does in her life is for him and making sure he is healthy—given his past physical and mental health issues. I really appreciated how Heron showed that mental health issues can be ongoing. People aren’t “cured” after a few rounds of therapy. Mental health is still something we don’t talk about enough in Asian communities, so to see Heron highlight this was great to read.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess
By Sue Lynn Tan
Harper Voyager, 2022
As daughter of the moon goddess Chang’e, Xingyin has grown up in solitude, unaware that she’s actually being hidden from the Celestial Emperor, who had exiled Xingyin’s mother for (allegedly) stealing his immortality elixir. But when Xingyin’s magic flares up and her existence is almost discovered, she’s forced to flee, leaving her mother behind and setting out on a quest to free her.
Alone in the immortal realm’s Celestial Kingdom and without her powers, Xingyin (an immortal, herself) disguises her identity and seizes the opportunity to learn alongside the emperor’s son, Liwei. But as she masters everything from archery to magic—as expected—feelings begin to develop between the two.
The first in a duology, “Daughter” is a story that weaves Chinese mythology with romance and adventure. Xingyin is smart and resourceful and her love for her mother is palpable as she does what she has to in order to get back to the moon—though not without the means to free her mother from exile. Everything Xingyin does is in the name of helping Chang’e, which is an interesting dynamic when it comes to stories about parent-child relationships. For many children of immigrants, we often see and hear about our parents making sacrifices and taking risks to create a better life for us, so it was a nice change of pace to see Xingyin in the position to do this for her mother.
Having grown up isolated on the moon, once she makes it to the Celestial Kingdom, Xingyin finds herself making connections—and not just with Liwei, but with others. It’s touching to see as she realizes the strength of her friendships, the impact they have on her, and vice versa. One of my favorite moments is when her friends pull through to support Xingyin when she needs them the most—showing readers the true power of love (any kind of love).
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.