Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom

By Sangu Mandanna

Rating: 4 stars

Having read, and adored, Mandanna’s The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, I went looking for more works by her and found this children’s novel available in my local library. It’s very different in style and tone to Witches, fitting much more into standard portal fantasy territory, albeit with the added twist that the girl who goes through the portal, the eponymous Kiki Kallira, has fairly crippling anxiety.

At the start of the book, Kiki is out with her friend Emily and Emily’s sister and friends to the fair. A chance remark makes her realise that she can’t remember if she locked her front door on the way out, which leads her immediately to a worst case scenario (burglars have broken in and killed her mum) and she can’t stop until she leaves her friend and goes home to check. This is a strong opening, showing us just how baked in Kiki’s anxiety is, and that it’s not your everyday worrying, but something deeper. Later, Kiki finds a world that she’d drawn in her notebook coming to life and she has to go in to stop the demon who she created to terrorise it, helped only by a group of rebel kids.

Kiki has to deal with all the traditional problems that a portal fantasy protagonist has, and with her anxiety on top of that, for extra fun. There was a twist towards that end that I should probably have seen coming, but I was having too much fun with the plot to be self-aware enough of what was going on.

I don’t read much children’s fiction, but I found this very readable, with extra points for an Indian protagonist and Hindu mythology folded into the plot as well. It doesn’t talk down to the audience, and even as a middle aged man, I found Kiki well-realised and easy to relate to. I’ll be looking out for the sequel.

Book details

ISBN: 9781444963441
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Year of publication: 2021

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