The Serpent’s Secret
By Sayantani DasGupta
Kiranmala is a normal, 12-year-old Indian girl living in Parsippany, NJ. She goes to school, she has friends, and her parents own a convenience store. She bemoans the fact that her parents insist that she dress up as a “real Indian princess” every year for Halloween (which also happens to be her birthday!) This year, things are a bit different though.
When Kiran gets home from school, something is off. She’s trying to figure out what exactly when two brothers dressed as Indian princes come to the door and ask her if she’s ready to go with them. Their names are Lal and Neel. Lal is the Bengali word for red, and he’s dressed accordingly, just as Neel is dressed in his name of blue. Lal, the younger brother, is also very pretty. Kiran and Neel seem to get off on the wrong foot almost immediately. Their bickering is interrupted by a monster destroying her house.
The monster is a rakkhosh, a demon in traditional Indian stories. A rakkhosh devours everything and speaks in rhyme. After defeating the demon, Kiran leaves with the two princes after she discovers that her parents are missing, and they agree to help her find them. There is talk of other dimensions and stars and planets, and then they’re off on their rescue mission. Bengali myths are full of astronomy, apparently, just like every other civilization had tales about the movements of the sun, moon, planets and stars.
Then we’re off on a rescue mission, which mostly takes place in a land where traditional Bengali stories are true. There are talking birds, flying horses, evil demon queens, brave princes, and a clever princess. It turns out that Kiran really is an Indian princess, but not of human origin. She is told the legend of the Moon Maiden and the Serpent King, who are her real parents. Princess Kiranmala is actually a real character in traditional stories, as are the brothers Neelkamal and Lalkamal, although they never appear together. There are places in the story that feel very much like traditional stories, and then there are things that don’t scream “traditional story element” to me, but probably would to someone who grew up with them.
I was pretty much on board with everything until the last 75 pages or so. Then things got a little weird for me. The astronomy got very… sciency. I’m used to legends being about abstract concepts, but when actual science gets involved, I get thrown a bit.
Overall, it’s a good story, and introduces a lot of traditional stories from a culture not my own! This is the beginning of a trilogy, but with traditional stories to pull from, who knows where the series could go?
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “Mythic”)