Book Review

City Of The Plague God

City of the Plague God

  • Author: Sarwat Chadda
  • Genre: MG Fantasy
  • Publication Date: January 12, 2021
  • Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents

CONTENT WARNING: death, grief, bullying, Islamophobia, gore, plague

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am providing my honest opinion voluntarily.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents CITY OF THE PLAGUE GOD, an adventure based on ancient Mesopotamian mythology written by Sarwat Chadda, author of the Ash Mistry series. Characters from the Epic of Gilgamesh populate this high-stakes contemporary adventure in which all of Manhattan is threatened by the ancient god of plagues.

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.

I’ve promised myself that 2021 would be a year in which I diversified my reading. And this book was the perfect fit — it’s by a diverse author, with diverse characters, and while it is still fantasy, it’s a middle grade book, which I don’t usually read. I’m not sure why I don’t read more MG books. I always expect them to be boring, simple, and childish, yet every time I’ve read one, they’re incredibly enjoyable, and this one is a perfect example of that. 

City of the Plague God reminds me of the Percy Jackson series, but with an Iraqi Muslim main character, and instead of pulling from Greek mythology, it draws from Mesopotamian mythology. This is an area that I don’t know much about, but my interest is piqued and I’m definitely going to be looking into more of this.

Sik is the son of refugees who have settled in Manhattan and opened a thriving deli. His older brother has passed away, and Sik has taken on a lot of responsibility helping his parents at their deli after school. My heart broke seeing him deal with his grief while also struggling with his unresolved emotions about his brother. I think this was really well portrayed — a sudden death often leaves people with conflicting emotions, and Sik isn’t quite sure how to deal with these. 

Sik is unapologetically Muslim, and I love that about him. He is sweet, funny, and kind, and has no idea how to fight demons or Nergal, the plague god who comes to find him. I love seeing the way that a kid like Sik is portrayed in this story, and placing characters like him front and center as a hero makes him relatable to young people who see themselves in him. Even as he believes in him faith so strongly, he readily accepts the existence of the Mesopotamian gods and goddesses. I loved seeing his character arc, and he experiences such a great change throughout the story.

Belet is the trusty sidekick in this story. As Ishtar’s adopted daughter, she fills in the gaps in Sik’s skills — where he is a smart-aleck that relies on his brains to get him out of tough spots, she’s the brawn that leans on her fighting skills and her awareness of mythology. She complements Sik very well, and they work great as a team. She’s not as in touch with her emotions, and she undergoes a major transformation during the book.

The story is full of action, and moved quickly. I enjoyed reading this way more than I expected to, and there were parts that made me laugh as well. It definitely brought back Percy Jackson vibes. There were some simple Arabic words interspersed into the text (and a glossary to explain the words at the end), and I loved how it changed the perspective around some commonly vilified words associated with Muslims. Several times in the story, Sik relates his quest to a jihad, which is explained as a righteous cause. In this case, it is saving Manhattan from the ravages of the plague god. I loved how that word was reclaimed from how it has come to be viewed. This isn’t a book to be missed!

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 10

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