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We Can Be Heroes

Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom  (Kiki Kallira, volume 1)

By Sangu Mandanna 

26 Apr, 2024

Doing the WFC's Homework

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2021’s Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is the first of Sangu Mandanna’s Kiki Kallira middle-grade modern fantasy novels.

Anxious eleven-year-old Kiki Kallira is plagued by obtrusive thoughts, nightmare scenarios she cannot ignore no matter how absurd or unlikely. Otherwise enjoyable activities are routinely spoiled as Kiki involuntarily dwells on implausible possibilities.

At least Kiki has her art to comfort her. Too bad her drawings may well have doomed the world to apocalyptic tyranny.

Of particular interest to Kiki, the legend of the Asura Mahishasura. Having prayed until Brahma granted him total invulnerability to gods and men, Mahishasura and his army of demons conquered Mysore. Brahma’s boon seemingly placed the Asura beyond retribution… but of course there was an obvious loophole. Warrior goddess Chamundeshwari vanquished Mahishasura and banished him to the void.

Kiki’s notebooks detail the Mysore of her imagination. This Mysore is still occupied by the demon army. Child-heroes such as Ashwini (based on one of Kiki’s more notorious/inspirational relatives) struggle against the occupiers. It’s a wonderous land of adventure and a great comfort to a girl who cannot lock a door without panicking.

Kiki’s art presents an opportunity for the all too real Mahishasura. The demon king cannot directly enter the real world. He can, however, enter the world within Kiki’s notebook. From there he can open a crack between the Mysore of Kiki’s book and her London bedroom.

Fortunately for Kiki and London, only the beings on the specific page on which the crack appeared can appear in London: an Asura and the person who swiftly defeats the Asura, Ashwini herself. However, given time Mahishasura will be able to widen the crack until he himself can escape. None of Kiki’s creations can defeat Mahishasura. Only Kiki herself is able to accomplish that and to do that, she must enter her fantasy world1.

The fate of the world depends on a less than confident eleven-year-old somehow overcoming the insurmountable challenges she herself designed into her creation, as well as her own seemingly incurable anxieties.


There are middle-grade books where kids face seemingly life-threatening dangers but enjoy plot immunity. This is not one of those books. Kids squaring off against Asuras can and do most definitely die (and the only reason their parents don’t is because the parents in Mysore were all killed by the demons before Kiki arrived). Set your expectations accordingly.

Kiki has a pretty raw deal. As she discovers, it’s better than the one she inadvertently forced on the characters in her book. They are only real as long as the demon inhabits their world. Once he is gone, they go back to being images on the page and in Kiki’s imagination. This means their choices are 

  • endless war against a cruel demon they cannot defeat;
  • non-existence.

At least one of the orphaned child-heroes is less than grateful for these choices.

Kiki does at least have a supportive mother. Kiki’s mother might not be able to make Kiki’s anxieties vanish, but she does acknowledge them in ways not designed to exacerbate them.

This was a nicely written middle-grade book, with a protagonist that anyone who has gone back multiple times to make sure the door is really locked will appreciate. Having presented Kiki with a difficult but seemingly linear quest, Mandanna then presents readers with some deftly handled twists and a resolution that rejects the tired trope of truly believing in oneself in favor of making full use of one’s resources despite entrenched confidence issues. Go team! outthink the monster!

Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

1: No time passes in London while Kiki is in fantasy Mysore. This is both good and bad. Good, because Kiki’s mother doesn’t have to sit and worry while Kiki is off fighting demons. Bad, because even if it takes Mahishasura a billion fantasy Mysore years to escape from fantasy Mysore, the process is instantaneous from London’s perspective.

British readers worried that the current UK government is evidence that Mahishasura escaped can take heart from the fact that for all his faults, the demon is competent and therefore cannot possibly be a Tory.