I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom, Kiki feels like her brain is out to get her. She doesn’t know how to handle her anxiety, nor how to tell anyone about it, so she turns to art to cope. One day, though, she learns that her drawings—inspired by the Indian myths her mother shares with her—have opened a portal to another world, and a demon called Mahishasura is trying to break into hers. Kiki ends up entering this alternate dimension, and realizes she might be the one responsible for his rise to power. But she worries that she won’t be able to stop him…
First off, I really like Kiki as a protagonist. She’s bright and sweet and smart, but has pretty low self-esteem, so you really root for her to gain some confidence. I loved her creativity, and the portrayal of her anxiety (more on that later).
The other characters, especially Ashwini and Pip, were also wonderful. There’s a fun, diverse cast of kids in this book, who have unique and quirky personalities that make this an enjoyable group to read about. The villain, too, is excellent. He’s sinister and conniving, and makes the stakes feel real without being too much of a caricature. Some of the dialogue didn’t always work for me—the kids didn’t sound like kids, if that makes sense. But all in all, the characters and their interactions are great.
The world Mandanna has created is cool, too. It feels vivid and full of life, made interesting and strange in a way only a preteen could make a fictional world. I love the mish-mash of technology and aesthetics, and if it weren’t for the army of monsters busy taking over, I’d want to visit Kiki’s version of Mysore.
However, my favorite part of this book was definitely the presentation of Kiki’s anxiety. She carries some shame about it, as it often stands in her way of behaving how she feels she is supposed to. However, as the book goes on, it not only explains both to Kiki and the reader what anxiety is—an illness, not an inherent flaw that makes a person unworthy—but it also shows how a character struggling with their mental health can still be strong and brave and loved. Mandanna does a fantastic job with all of this, and none of it is too heavy for its intended audience, nor does it talk down to them.
In the end, Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is an awesome book, full of magic and adventure, friendship and learning to believe in yourself. The characters are wonderful, the setting is incredible, and the plot is really well paced. Sometimes the dialogue sounded unnatural for children, and the plot twist toward the end wasn’t the most mind-blowing thing I’ve ever seen, but this was still a great book. I think I liked it more than Aru Shah, but kids who enjoy mythology-related stories, or adventures in magical lands in general, will love this. I’m definitely planning to read the next book in this series!
Overall rating: 8.7/10
Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom will be published on July 6th, 2021!