Sapan and the Demon of Diwali – Review

A few days ago the author of this ebook emailed me and asked if I would like to review it. The book is aimed at older children as well as adults, and Chapter 1 has been read on BBC Radio Bristol. Thank you Andrzej for the opportunity to review your work!

When Diwali comes there may be magic in the air…

When Diwali comes the light may triumph over the darkness…

When Diwali comes real friendship may flourish…

Well, that’s right – for some people.

But when your belly is empty you don’t really care.

And Sapan’s belly had been empty all day…

Sapan and the Demon of Diwali is a relatively short book at under a hundred pages, but it packs those pages with charm and beautiful imagery. The book tells the story of Sapan, a young boy in living in India, and his adventures during the festivities of Diwali. Stealing from stallholders in order to eat, he comes across a young girl named Jeevika and they quickly become friends. When Jeevika disappears it is up to Sapan to find her, but neither she nor Sapan’s world are quite what they first appear.

“I have lived here for many years,” said the old man wearily. “And there is more to this river than you think.”

Sapan looked out at the blackness of the water behind the small temple and wondered with a chill what dark shapes were moving deep below its surface.

“It is home to powerful spirits,” said the man. “I have seen some with my own eyes and I have heard of others. Some are kind and some are not. Some have ten heads and twenty arms – some do not. And their hearts… they may be big but they are full of anger.”

As the book is intended primarily for children it is a little simplistic in terms of the overall narrative and often the chapter headings, such as ‘Mirage’, give away what is going to happen next. As well as this there are a few too many exclamation marks throughout, as though the author is trying to make the story more exciting. One example is when Jeevika dances to distract a stallholder – ‘And it worked! […] Jeevika finished her dance abruptly, took a bow, and waited for the applause!’ – these marks are unnecessary, the story is engaging enough without them. There is a certain fairytale or mystical quality to it as it involves, among other things, a wise old man, a monkey companion, a colourful fish who shows Sapan the way, a forest of trees that can move, and a gemstone palace. Sapan’s journey, initially grounded in realism, soon became fantastical but this only served to enhance the story and the importance of its message.

A frenzy of fireworks exploded above the river, creating showers of sparkling white light that floated dreamily back down towards the earth. To Sapan it seemed as if the very stars themselves were settling on to the surface of the river.

Even though the original purpose of Sapan’s journey is to find Jeevika, it soon becomes something more when he learns who she really is, and why she was taken from him. The spiritual element of the story was one I especially liked, as it lifted the book beyond the realm of a simple adventure and it meant that bigger themes could be explored. Although on occasion there were elements of the story that did not make sense – such as when one character tries out some dance moves in a speedily moving boat – overall Sapan and the Demon of Diwali is charming, and a pleasure to read.

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