Rick Riordan Presents has consistently turned out amazing books focusing on mythology and folklore from underrepresented cultures, and they’ve knocked it out the park yet again with Sarwat Chadda’s City of the Plague God.
City of the Plague God tells the story of 13-year-old Sikander Aziz who works at his family’s New York City deli. He’s an altogether unassuming character who is thrust into the world of mythological ancient Mesopotamian gods when Nergal, ancient god of disease, and his demons crash into the deli late one evening demanding something from Sik. As plague and disease infect first Sik’s parents, rendering them comatose, and begins to overtake the city, he teams up with Ishtar, goddess of war and love, and her teenage daughter Belet to unravel the mystery of what Nergal wants and rescue the city from his plagues. Sik’s journey leads him to a run in with the legendary Gilgamesh, into Kurnugi (the netherworld), and on a mission to find the Flower of Immortality.
Chadda weaves a fantastic tale that seamlessly marries a modern New York City and city mindset in Sik to the ancient Mesopotamian mythology that comes to life from the very first page. Readers will connect with Sik’s down to earth attitude. He is determined to save his parents and the city, but also struggles to reconcile his idea of a hero with how he views himself. His story is tinged with tragedy as he is still reeling from the sudden loss of his older brother, Mo. Sik is presented with many opportunities to be the traditional “battle” hero, but those are not his strengths and he knows it. Instead, Sik steps into the hero role slowly over his journey and takes every new road block and development, like accidentally becoming immortal, in stride.
Sik’s story is made all the more entertaining with the myriad of unique characters who join him. Readers will fall in love with Sik, Belet, and even the vain would-be actor Daoud! If it’s not evident from the title, City of the Plague God also features rich descriptions of plague and disease by way of Nergal, his disgusting demons, and the ever mutating humans who barely resemble humans by the end of the book. It engages both the imagination and senses; it’s almost as if you can smell the diseased demons! Chadda is a master at crafting an engaging story and building rich, vibrant worlds that readers are going to lose themselves in for hours at a time.
For any readers unfamiliar with Arabic, Islamic, and Mesopotamian terminology, Chadda has included a helpful glossary that makes referencing words while reading a breeze. It’s a little touch that makes the text more engaging, and I definitely recommend this one for any fans of mythology and action adventure stories!
City of the Plague God will be available in stores and online January 12.