I can't believe I missed this one from 2021. 'Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom' is a fabulous adventure that magically draws lines between Hindu mythology, mental health and the power of creativity - I loved it! Vividly brought to life by Sangu Mandanna, this is a book that is exciting, tense and full of heart-felt awareness about being your best, vulnerable self.
Kiki Kallira is more a worrier than a warrior, until she must learn to become her own type of hero when her sketches of a magical city come to life. Plunged into her extraordinary world, Kiki must face an ancient, terrifying Hindu God who threatens everything. Can Kiki and a band of rebel kids stop him? Can Kiki overcome her anxieties harmed only with a pencil while wearing unicorn pyjamas?
The concept of this is just brilliant. I love stories that embrace Eastern or Middle-Eastern traditions and culture, and 'Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom' wonderfully merges the mythology of Hinduism with ideas of heroism, bravery and vulnerability. While very much creating her own world, Sangu Mandanna has also ingeniously incorporated the likes of Brahma and Vishnu into the story - adding a startling depth to the magic. Fans of Jasbinder Bilan and M.T. Khan's soon to be published Muslim-inspired 'Nura and the Immortal Palace' will find much to enjoy here too.
Kiki herself is a wonderful protagonist and while her worrying is a focus of the story, it also doesn't remove her agency. There are important messages here about what true inner strength means and how power can be found deep inside rather than from physical force. I loved this from the book, in particular: 'Little girls are always more powerful than people think we are. People think we're sweet, precious things, all sugar and spice and everything nice, but we've got iron and steel in us, too.' I hope my own daughters grow up to accept themselves and show their special kind of inner power like this too. Kiki finds her power from her creativity and her friendships - and there are some wise passages in the story about how people, particularly girls, may talk to themselves negatively and how that can be overcome.
On top of all of that, 'Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom' is also action-packed, imaginative, scary, funny and full of twists and shocks. I cannot wait for the sequel which comes out quite soon, I think!