The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

Not exactly my kind of book. The Savage Fortress was inspired, writes the author, “by the real Savage Fortress–a maharajah’s palace near Varanasi, India–as well as his life long fascination with the goddess Kali.”

So, this Hindu goddess:

'Goddesses' photo (c) 2008, LASZLO ILYES - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

And this rather medieval looking maharajah’s palace:

'India - Varanasi - 010 - one of the Maharaja palaces' photo (c) 2007, McKay Savage - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

And the tag line is: Heroes aren’t made. They’re reborn.

If you’re interested in a reincarnation story in which an British teen of Indian ancestry must fight to keep Ravanna the evil god of the rakshasas (demons) in his place of exile so that Ravanna won’t take over the world and make it into a place of (more) chaos and suffering on a grand scale, then The Savage Fortress is your book. To me, it just felt evil and confusing, although I will admit to a certain train-wreck fascination. The writing certainly ranged from adequate to good, but I’m just repelled and bewildered by Hindu mythology. If everybody is going to come back after death and fight the same battles all over again, what’s the use?

Then there’s the Kali motif that I found deeply disconcerting in this story for middle grade readers:

“Kāli is the Goddess of Time and Change. Although sometimes presented as dark and violent, her earliest incarnation as a figure of annihilator of evil forces still has some influence. . . The figure of Kāli conveys death, destruction, and the consuming aspects of reality. As such, she is also a “forbidden thing”, or even death itself.

Can mercy be found in the heart of her who was born of the stone?
Were she not merciless, would she kick the breast of her lord?
Men call you merciful, but there is no trace of mercy in you, Mother.
You have cut off the heads of the children of others, and these you wear as a garland around your neck.
It matters not how much I call you “Mother, Mother.” You hear me, but you will not listen. From a poet named Rāmprasād Sen in Wikipedia article on Kali.

And our hero, Ash, ends up defeating Ravanna with the power of Kali, the goddess of Darkness and Death. Ewwww. (I’m not too fond of zombies or vampires, either.)

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