The Savage Fortress Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
About the book
In a land of ancient palaces and ferocious deserts, where the heroes and villains of the past never die, one slightly dorky boy from our time…is going to kick monster butt!
Ash Mistry has had it with India. Three weeks into his vacation, it’s all gotten too hot, too loud, too dusty. Okay, the vast castles and crazy legends are pretty cool, but he’d rather be playing video games and eating at McDonald’s with his buddies back in London… Then all hell breaks loose. Literally.
Lord Alexander Savage, an aristocrat who looks suspiciously like a corpse, lures Ash’s uncle into his mad realm with a job offer too good to refuse. Suddenly Ash finds himself rubbing elbows (or claws, or jaws, or talons) with rakshasas—monstrous shape-changers who will stop at nothing to do Savage’s bidding and reawaken the demon king Ravana, master of all evil. What’s a thirteen-year-old kid to do?
When Ash uncovers a golden arrowhead with earth-shattering powers, and discovers he has more than just a little in common with the mythical hero Rama, it’s game time. Like it or not, he’s smack-dab in the middle of a breakneck quest to stop the forces of destruction that threaten to topple reality itself. With the help of an easy-on-the-eyes snake-girl and a four-thousand year-old holy man, Ash must summon inner courage he’s never even dreamed of, and get to Ravana’s legendary tomb before Savage’s sick plan decimates all the good in the universe. No pressure or anything.
Questions for Discussion
- In the first couple pages of the novel, we learn a lot about Ash, Lucky, Rishi and Parvati, as the four of them connect in a comical snake-charming scene. What’s your first impression of Ash?
- When Ash first sees a dead body floating down the Ganges River (p. 45), he’s stunned. How do the customs in Varanasi—a city where pilgrims purposely go to die—challenge his Western ideas about death? What does Rishi mean when he says, “Is death evil?... Ask the old. Or the sick” (p. 118)? Why does Parvati complain that, for her, “Even death is no escape” (p. 146)?
- What is the motto on the Savage coat of arms, and how does it form Ash’s opinion of Lord Savage before they even meet? What are some of Savage’s past jobs?
- Why is Uncle Vik so desperate to take the translation job, despite all the evidence that Savage is a creep? Discuss his question, “Don’t you think we all deserve some recognition? Some small proof that our lives mean something?” (p. 31). What finally convinces him to destroy the check for two million pounds?
- As Ash and Lucky flee from the car crash, Ash yearns for his father, the English police, and normalcy: “Home. That was all that mattered now” (p. 88). How does Ash’s understanding of “home” change over the course of the story? Discuss the fact that all of the good guys in the novel—Parvati, John, Rishi, the orphans of the Lalgur—are homeless. Why does the author choose not to show Ash’s long-awaited homecoming at the end?
- Rama’s choice to use the Vishnu-aastra rather than the Kali-aastra in his battle against Ravana has sweeping, centuries-long consequences. Why does Rama choose the way he does? What sacrifice does each choice require? What decision would you have made?
- Self-doubt eats away at Ash, through every twist and turn in his adventure. “Despair and doubts whispered to him. Who did he think he was? He was in way over his head…Some warrior. Some hero” (p. 122). Even well after he recognizes the vital role he is destined to play, he has self-defeating thoughts. “In an ideal world he’d be a hero and go off to fight Savage…But this wasn’t that sort of world. He wasn’t that sort of hero” (p. 150). Having just walloped the demon Mayar, Ash mopes, “I’m so useless” (p. 218). And approaching Ravana’s tomb, he thinks, “A month ago he was having his lunch money stolen by the school bullies” (p. 248). Is this just Ash being modest, or is he attached to the comfortable, familiar role of underdog?
- When do we first realize that Ash has a crush on Parvati? What does their unique relationship add to the story?
- The drama and tension of this novel are lightened by moments of comedy, such as the moment when, flying toward the ruined city of Ravana, which is teeming with demons, monsters, half-devoured corpses, and utter chaos, Ash drops: “Is now a bad time to mention I’m risk intolerant?” (p. 232). Another example is Ash’s comment to Parvati: “You. Batman. Cool. Hard as nails….Me. Robin. I get to wear green shorts” (p. 240). Where else do you find comic relief in the book? Are Ash’s jokes always at his own expense?
- Why does Parvati blame herself for Savage’s continued existence? What does she mean when she claims, “All he’s done…I could have stopped, if I hadn’t been so desperate to be something I’m not” (p. 149)? What did Savage promise he would do for her once he mastered the ten sorceries? Why is this promise so important to her?
- During Ash’s first episode as the mighty warrior Rama, he pours water over his head to clear his mind after an injury (p. 57). A chapter later, Ash, now himself again and injured in the collapsed dig pit, repeats the same gesture (p. 65). Are there any other recognizable traits shared by Ash-the-boy and Ash-the-mystical-hero? What do you think of the change in writing style the author uses for the Rama sections? Are these sections fun to read? Why are there only three of them?
- After breaking Mayar’s jaw, Ash is flooded with power, fury, and a huge desire to kill. For a moment, he seems on the cusp of murdering Parvati. How would the story unfold differently if he had done it?
- John calls Ash a coconut: “Brown on the outside, white on the inside” (p. 132). The term touches a nerve. “Back in Britain he was too Indian, too Asian, to really be British, and out here he was too British to be Indian. So what was he? Lost” (p.132). How much of this story is about finding/forging your identity? Does Ash succeed at doing so? Ash is also lost between his mortal, schoolboy self and his epic, Rama self; does one side win out by the end of the novel?
- How does Rama convince Parvati to surrender after Ravana’s defeat?
- As Ash and Lucky reunite with their beloved father at last, what does Ash notice about him? Why does it mean that nothing will ever be the same again?
- The Savage Fortress is wildly visual and cinematic. Given an unlimited budget, how would you film it? Which Hollywood stars would you cast in the lead roles (or would you use unknowns)? The novel contains numerous gripping climaxes; choose two that your film would focus on and describe the scenes from a visual standpoint. Would you keep or change the title?
- Ash finds himself in many very scary situations—hand-to-hand combat with demons, a fatal car accident, the Carnival of Flesh, and a dungeon full of biting rats, to name only a few. Which scenario would you find the most terrifying and why?
- Sarwat Chadda writes in his blog that The Savage Fortress “is actually about a boy who does go on the absolutely worst summer holiday of his life. You know, hot, crowded, loads of flies and dodgy food and, of course, demons. Demons will spoil any holiday, guaranteed.” Write an outline of your worst summer vacation ever, and embellish it with some fantastical or mythological touches.
The earliest evidence of snake charming comes from Ancient Egypt. In India today, a snake charmer like Rishi is a wandering street performer who appears to “hypnotize” a snake, luring it out of a basket by playing a musical instrument (even though India passed a law in 1972 banning the ownership of snakes!). Some of the poor snakes have had their fangs or venom glands removed (unlike Parvati), so the snake charmer is not in much danger. The skill of snake charming is often passed down from father to son.
Crocodiles in the Ganges?
India is home to three kinds of crocodiles: the mugger crocodile (your standard, scary-as-heck crocodile), the gharial (a long-snouted critter with razor-sharp teeth), and the saltwater crocodile (your worst nightmare, known to chow down on humans, cows and horses, and capable of growing twenty feet long). We’re pretty sure Mayar is, um, the last kind.
The Hindu goddess Kali is connected in mythology to the ideas of time, destruction and motherhood. Kali is usually depicted with four arms, wild hair, black skin and a long, red tongue. Usually, she is shown holding a bloody sword and a freshly severed head!
Suggestions for Further Reading
Chadda, Sarwat. Devil’s Kiss (Hyperion). The youngest and only female member of the Knights Templar battles London’s “Unholy” in a terrifying quest for a cursed mirror.
Dark Goddess (Hyperion). The unforgettable heroine of Devil’s Kiss takes on a pack of female werewolves in the Russian underworld.
About kids kicking mythological butt:
Collins, Suzanne. The Underland Chronicles series (Scholastic). An eleven-year-old warrior and his baby sister take on an army of evil rats in subterranean New York City.
Deming, Sarah. Iris, Messenger (Harcourt Children’s Books). An unhappy twelve-year-old discovers that the entire pantheon of gods is living in the greater Philadelphia area; adventures ensue.
Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee. Brotherhood of the Conch series (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster). It’s all perilous quests, evil sorcerers and metaphysical time travel through India for twelve-year-old Anand, keeper of a mystical conch shell.
Lafevers, R.L. Theodosia series (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). An eleven-year-old hybrid of Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones single-handedly keeps London safe from the curses of Ancient Egypt.
Mull, Brandon. Fablehaven series (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster). A brother-sister team must save their family from an ancient evil accidentally unleashed in a secret refuge for mystical animals.
Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians series (Hyperion). A twelve-year-old demigod faces off with mythological monsters only he can see.
Yolen, Jane. Young Heroes series (HarperCollins). Fast-paced adventures for teenaged heroes/heroines in Ancient Greece.
About Indian and Hindu mythology:
Gavin, Jamila. Tales from India (Templar). A collection of beautifully illustrated, traditional Hindu stories, including the birth of the gods, the creation of the world and the arrival of humans.
Krisnashwami, Uma. The Broken Tusk (August House). A collection of Hindu folktales about the elephant-headed god, Ganesha.
Nanji, Shenaaz. Indian Tales (Barefoot Books). Eight retellings of classic Indian folktales, rich with information on customs, traditions, history and landscape.
Schlomp, Virginia. Ancient India, People of the Ancient World series (Children’s Press). A comprehensive look at ancient Indian society through literature, artifacts and documents.
About the author
Throughout his travels, Sarwat Chadda has soaked up the myths, legends, and cultures of faraway places. Now, with the Ash Mistry series, he aims to bring these unfamiliar tales of Eastern demons, blue-skinned heroes, and black-skinned goddesses to a Western audience. He was inspired to write this book by the “real” Savage Fortress—a maharajah’s palace near Varanasi, India. Chadda is the author of the acclaimed young adult novels Devil’s Kiss and Dark Goddess. He lives in London with his family. For more information visit his highly entertaining website at sarwatchadda.com.
Discussion guide written by Jane Kotapish