“Suddenly the world she thought she knew had opened up as if stage curtains had been yanked back to show her that there was so much more than what she’d imagined. There was magic. Secrets crouched in the dark. Characters from stories, like the ones she’d been told all her life, were taking off their masks and saying, I was never a tale, but a truth.”

I plucked Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi off the shelf in the library because it featured a titular girl – always a good sign that it might be a Girls Underground book. And it was! And, refreshingly it draws on Hindu mythology rather than the more common European myth and folklore one usually finds in these books.

Aru, 12, lives in a museum with her very distracted and often travelling mother. One day she makes a tragic mistake while showing off for some friends, and awakens a destructive being called the Sleeper – simultaneously freezing her mother in time, so that her quest becomes both common GU tropes: to save the world, and to rescue a family member. And time is running out, as she has to accomplish this before the new moon. She is guided from the outset by a talking pigeon who is much more than he seems. She also acquires a companion named Mini who is almost more like a co-heroine; together they complete many tasks and trials in their journey to the Kingdom of Death (not technically underground, but close enough in spirit). They are pursued by the Sleeper along the way. They must cross a Bridge of Forgetting at one point, where they start losing parts of themselves. There is a revelation about Aru’s identity. And in the end, she confronts the Sleeper alone, who tries to tempt her to his side. It is not really a spoiler to say she defeats him only provisionally, as there is already a sequel slated for publication next year.

“Heroines usually are the Kingdom of Death’s worst nightmares. They’re always barging in, waving scraps of metal around, and demanding things. No manners whatsoever.”