Title: Ayesha and the Fire Fish
Author: Ajay Chowdhury
Illustrator: Devangana Dash
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction
Tags: Sci-fi/Fantasy/Adventure/Mystery/Travel/Holiday/Oceans/Sea Creatures
Ayesha and the Fire Fish is a sci-fi adventure fantasy novel with a dash of the spiritual thrown in for good measure. It has many appealing qualities that will make it enjoyable to a young reader (age ten and up? Maybe an advanced reader who is eight or nine could try, too). There’s non-stop action, mystery and suspense, nail-biting edge-of-the-seat moments, and an endearing, though somewhat precocious cast of characters. The book is very visual and even as I was reading it, it felt like I was watching a film. And so, I’ll get to the illustrations by Devangana Dash right away. They are charming, often detailed, and do a fine job of capturing certain scenes. The sparkly cover is eye-catching. However, Chowdhury’s descriptions are so vivid and colourful that the black-and-white drawings in many chapters fall flat and could have been done away with altogether.
The book starts with ten-year-old Ayesha holidaying with her parents in Rimini. Something beckons her to the beach at night and she follows her instincts (and a persistent call) and winds up at the bottom of the ocean for a very important meeting. Turns out that bioluminescent phytoplankton—which Ayesha calls firefish—are disappearing from the oceans at an alarming rate, putting all life on the planet at risk. Ayesha has to not only find out why the electrolytes, another name for the biophytostuff, are depleting but also, if possible, reverse the process. She has heroic qualities—we are told (one too many times) that she is brave, smart, kind and compassionate, apart from being an indigo child. Google the last, please, we learn something new every day. So, she is given a tiny surfboarding wise-cracking snail as an assistant, as well as a bag of large black pearls and sent on her way. Unknown to her, she is being followed.
Her first stop is Rome, where she picks up a sidekick in the form of an older cousin, and from there the trio—two humans and a snail—whizz through countries and continents at a head-spinning pace as they track clues that take them from Galileo to Gaudi, from a Stephen Hawking-like professor to the Dalai Lama himself.
Chowdhury’s style is breezy and engaging, the language pitched just right. However, there are marvellous coincidences and parents and sundry adults are so cooperative and unquestioning as to be almost scary; the children manage to interview or seek audience with very important people in absurdly easy ways; money, which can be such a huge obstacle in the normal scheme of things, never really proves a challenge. There is always a way out in the fantasy world we’re roaring through, as if the writer decided that in light of the planet-saving problem the threesome are faced with, it makes sense to keep the real world sweet and perfect enough to give the reader a toothache. Except when you get to India, where you get food poisoning instead. Made me frown, that bit. But you have to understand that this is a very first world sort of novel where people live and holiday in posh places, never lack for material things and travel almost at whim, where relatives drive Alpha Romeos, and where two minor kids travelling alone on a long-distance flight are not only not questioned, but are upgraded to first class just like that, for fun. To think that when I was a kid fantasies about easy living used to be about favourite foods growing on trees.
Ayesha and the Firesfish is like The Da Vinci Code for the young and shares the appeal of Dan Brown’s bestseller. If you’re looking for a pure fun read that’s not about issues and messages, hidden or otherwise, this could be the book for you.
Story/Content: 4 stars
Illustration: 3 stars
Language: 5 stars
Design: 5 stars
Revathi Suresh doesn't really like to read or write but feels weirdly compelled to do both. Her novel for young adults, Jobless Clueless Reckless, was published in 2013.