The Conch Bearer by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.
Roaring Brook Press: Brookfield, CT, 2003.

This story feels to me like an Indian version of The Lord of the Rings for young children. 12 year old Anand is asked by a master healer/wise man to assist him in returning a powerful artifact to a distant Himalayan valley, after Anand proves himself worthy. It was stolen by an adept of the valley, and this man, as powerful as Anand's companion, will do anything to get it back. A homeless girl, Nisha, invites herself along, and both are tested along their journey.

Magic and creatures share the journey, but one way this is different from the average fantasy quest is that the tests undergone are allegorical, the lessons have spiritual meanings. There are echoes of the Eastern religions, though it may be just lessons towards striving to be a better person. In order for the three to reach their destination, Anand at least has to continue to prove his worthiness. The initial test is reminiscent of Jesus to me as well. Anand cares for an old man he believes to be helpless, who turns out to be a miracle worker.

I enjoyed the characters and writing style of the book. The adventure moves right along. I could have wished for more moments with Abadhyatta, but that's the way of fantasy quests. The mentor disappears in order to not take over the whole story. Nisha is a good counterpoint to Anand's constant goodness.

related-healers, shells, magic, journeys and travels, India, adventures

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