In case you need more persuading to get your hands on a copy of City of the Plague God, keep reading to find out exactly how much Uncle Rick loves it. And don’t forget to tune in for Sarwat Chadda’s book tour events, starting tomorrow, January 9.
YOU WANT MYTHOLOGY? LET’S GET OLD-SCHOOL!
It doesn’t get any more “old-school” than Mesopotamia.
Without a doubt, the stories of Sumer, Babylon, and the rest of the Fertile Crescent are my favorite myths that I’ve never written about. Fortunately, I don’t have to. Sarwat Chadda knows the stories better than I do, and he is about to take you on a thrill ride you will never forget!
If you’ve ever wondered how mythology can be important and relevant, even thousands of years after it was written, you only have to look at current events. This book was entitled City of the Plague God long before the recent outbreak of COVID-19. When he wrote it, Sarwat Chadda had no idea we would soon be facing a new sort of plague that would affect the lives of everyone on earth. He was just telling a fantasy story about Nergal, the plague god from ancient Mesopotamia, and imagining what would happen if Nergal were still around today. Now, because of the coronavirus, his story feels very real and close to home.
There will be a badass ninja girl, a chariot pulled by big cats, and a demon with really bad breath.
At Rick Riordan Presents, we talked a lot about City of the Plague God after the virus became a global challenge. The book had been written and ready to go for months. Still, we didn’t want anyone to think we were trivializing or capitalizing on a worldwide crisis by releasing this type of story. In the end, we decided that this book and Mesopotamian myths have a lot to teach us about dealing with major upheavals— about fear of the unknown, courage in the face of danger, and the importance of family and community working together to solve problems.
Mesopotamians were just as worried about and affected by disease outbreaks as we are today. The fact that they had a god of plagues tells us how seriously they took the issue. City of the Plague God is a timely story that gives us a chance to reflect on how much we have in common with our ancient ancestors. Like Gilgamesh, like Sikander Aziz, the hero of this book, we are called on to be heroes, each of us in our own way, and stand up to a plague that threatens our community. Together, we can succeed!
So . . . back to Mesopotamian mythology and what makes it awesome. Just the term ziggurat, for one thing— is there any cooler word? When I was a kid, I loved learning about those step pyramids. I marveled at the mysteries of cuneiform writing. I stared at pictures of winged lions, freaky dragons, and dudes with righteous curly beards and massive hats and wondered why I couldn’t be awesome like the Mesopotamians.
Fast-forward a few decades, to when I became a teacher: Every year, my students and I would embark on a unit about Mesopotamia. It was always one of their favorite subjects. We would roll out the clay and practice writing in cuneiform. We’d make our own signature seals so we could sign clay tablets like pros. We would hold trials based on the Code of Hammurabi, meting out harsh punishments like cutting off hands (with red markers. Ah, I’m bleeding!), drowning in the Euphrates (with water guns), or stoning (with waddedup paper balls). The kids would also reenact The Epic of Gilgamesh, complete with Nerf weapons and fake beards. The Mesopotamians would have been proud . . . or possibly horrified. Anyway, we had fun.
As for the gods of Mesopotamia—wow! Those were some crazy deities. Ishtar, goddess of love and war. Nergal, the god of plague and war. Ninurta, the god of hunting and war. (Notice how all those gods are of something and war? They had a lot of conflicts back then.) Their stories offer a glimpse into one of the oldest known civilizations, which had a huge influence on Egypt, Greece, Rome, and the whole world.
How excited was I when Sarwat Chadda offered to write a book bringing all this wild, wonderful mythology into the modern world for the Rick Riordan Presents imprint? Yeah, I was pretty excited. I’ve been a fan of Sarwat’s books for years—Ash Mistry, Shadow Magic—and I knew he was the perfect guy for the job.
City of the Plague God does not disappoint. Our hero, Sikander Aziz, is an American Muslim kid born and raised in New York City. His parents are refugees from Iraq. His colleague, Daoud, is an aspiring actor who can only seem to get TV roles like “terrorist henchman.” His older brother, Mo, died two years ago, and Sikander (Sik) is still processing his grief and resentment. Sik is doing his best to help keep his family’s deli afloat when it is attacked one night by two ratfaced fellows who claim to be ancient demons. Things just get weirder from there.
Soon, a strange disease grips New York City. (Spoiler alert: Plague gods gonna plague.) Sikander’s parents fall ill along with many others. In order to stop the sickness and save Manhattan, Sikander has to plunge into a world of ancient gods, demigods, and monsters, and find out the truth about his own secret powers. There will be tears and snarky jokes. There will be a badass ninja girl, a chariot pulled by big cats, and a demon with really bad breath. I can also guarantee you will not want the adventure to end. I know I didn’t!
Welcome to the world of Mesopotamian myth as interpreted by the brilliantly creative, wonderfully offbeat mind of Sarwat Chadda. You may never want to leave!