City of the Plague God by Sarway Chadda is a Mesopotamian myth brought to the modern age. In City of the Plague God, we follow Sik as his world is turned upside down by gods.
Sik is only 13, and he wants to help his parents in the deli and get through life. But one night during closing, a god comes looking for something that his dead brother left behind. With gross demons who have even more revolting rhymes, Nergal, the plague god, seems to think Sik has the secret to immortality.
“My list of Most Disgusting Things Ever had a new number one.”
Later, Sik meets Belet. She is the daughter of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. Well, she’s the adopted daughter. It takes some time for Ishtar and Belet to convince Sik that any of this is real. By the time they have, Sik’s parents are marked as patient zero of the new plague taking over the town. They’re taken into the hospital, and authorities are looking for Sik to place him under quarantine. It’s now up to Sik and Belet to try and take down an old god.
“Do you hear yourselves? Gods and demons? They’re not real. All that- it’s just fairy tales. Stories to explain the sun and the moon, from back in the days when people believed the world was flat.”
“Some people still believe the world is flat,” said Belet.
“Yeah, and they’re crazy, too.”
Belet is dealing with the side-effects of having a goddess for a mother. Feeling as though she has something to prove, she regularly throws herself and Sik into dangerous situations. Sik is busy resenting and grieving his older brother and trying to find out what Nergal thinks he stole. The world is falling apart all around them due to a power-hungry god trying to save himself from his plague.
Sarwat Chadda does a fantastic job of approaching family dynamics in this book. We touch on sibling rivalry, mom issues, and the different ways kids can be with immigrant parents. All of this is wrapped up in an accessible middle grade. It represents a Muslim kid, something that I don’t think you see much in middle-grade fiction. It included a glossary for people who haven’t grown up with the terms used, which was educational and helpful.
The characters in the book are loveable and felt tangible. You watch Sik grow from his experiences while still being the stubborn, sharp-tongued thirteen-year-old he was at the beginning of the book. Belet is feisty and angry, but she’s valid in it. You feel like you want to fight alongside her as well. Everything in this story was exciting and amusing, from the talking sword to the flying cats.
“Belet’s fierceness burned. You knew she would fight, no matter the odds, no matter how hopeless it all got. You wanted a Belet in your corner.”
As this is written from Sik’s perspective, the commentary was honestly hilarious. Chadda incorporated humor into this otherwise serious book in a way that reminisced the Percy Jackson series- which makes sense, as this is a Rick Riordan Presents imprint.
This book was a five out of five-star read. I loved the way I was taught about myths and culture that I’m not familiar with. The characters were terrific, and the entire tale had me wrapped up as soon as it started. The pacing was quick, perfect for a middle-grade read with low attention spans. The jokes made me laugh out loud, and world-building was beautiful.
“Love always remains. Believe me, I know all about that.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.