A review by whatifitsbooks
City of the Plague God, by Sarwat Chadda

adventurous emotional hopeful tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

4.5

 As you may have heard by now, this book has been my most anticipated read for a while now - since March 2018, to be excact, when I learnt that RRP was gonna publish a book that features all I could ever hope for. I'm not even sure I'll manage to put this review into coherent words, but I will try.

Like, Mesopotamian gods? In an own-voices Middle Grade book? That features solely Muslim characters (apart from the (demi-)gods, of course) and literally says out loud that Muslim people rarely get to be the heroes? And shows right then and there what the religion and culture actually means, in spite of what prejudices might say? A freakin' dream.

Now, Sarwat Chadda could not have known how accurate the threat of a plague would be when he wrote this book in 2018, but it's felt freakishly accurate; from everyone's reactions (both the ridiculing ones and the serious ones) to how the atmosphere was written. The plot was mostly focused on that, but the underlying themes of family and loss of a loved one were very present and both heartbreaking and -warming as well.

And then there are the characters. Sik's a brilliant main character - just wanting to do his own thing until he gets dragged into something bigger. And yes, maybe his motivation is a bit slefish at first, since he mostly does it to help his family, but that's the best reasoning for me, to be honest. And he does think globally, too, even if it's just his secondary motivation. He's firmly rooted into his beliefs and culture, even if he struggles with it, never having seen his parents' birth place (Iraq), and that makes him such a relatable character for kids of immigrants.

Daoud and Belet are nice addition to him, filling in the other roles neatly. While Belet's the fighter that coaxes on Sik, Daoud is a reminder of what's on stake - Sik's relationship to him grows as the book develops (in connection to Sik's dead brother Mo, too, but I do not want to spoiler about that. I promise it's amazing!)

The godly characters are written wonderfully - especially Ishtar, who isn't suddenly humanized. She's all the goddess she should be, being ominous and confused as she navigates the modern world. I love the way Sarwat balanced the opposing aspects of her personality (love and war) and showed the development in her throughout the years. The same goes for Gilgamesh, who may not be what you expect but makes so much sense, too.

There's so many small and gigantic things in this book that make it work so well - from pop-culture references that make you laugh to small history lessons to explain everything to people who may not be familiar with Mesopotamian mythology (not to mention that there's a glossary in the back explaining not only that but also Muslim phrases!). With Ishtar as one of the gods in focus, it makes sense that this book is mostly about love in the midst of a fight, and that was woven into the story so perfectly; it just wouldn't have worked out without that balance, showing the relevance of her even in the modern times. That way it's not so far off that she would still be around.

The only thing that irked me just the tiniest bit was the way the mood - both in conversations and Sik's thoughts - changed a little to suddenly for me a few times. There could ahve been a bit more space for reflections, but I understand that those are hard to get completely right without boring your readers (especially when those are typically on the younger side).

All in all this book was absolutely worth the wait - it was all I expected and more, with so many levels of important messages that really need to be put out there today. 

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