Just to make this clear, Sarwat Chadda’s City of the Plague God was written before the COVID-19 pandemic ever happened, and you can tell because there isn’t a prominent presence denying the existence of the plague. Part of Rick Riordan Presents, City of the Plague God tackles Mesopotamian mythology. Sik Aziz’s life revolves around his family’s deli, until it’s attacked by demons and his parents fall victim to a mysterious illness. Sik must figure out how to battle Nergal, the god of disease, before his plague dominates New York City, and then the world.
Reading this book has made me wonder, though, about what books will look like post-pandemic. For many people, the pandemic has changed their lives dramatically, coming with new norms and new challenges, and I feel like that’s going to be reflected in the media we consume. What follows are some thoughts about what’s to come. I’ll try to avoid detailed spoilers for City of the Plague God, but there might still be some vague ones.
To Pandemic or Not to Pandemic
I, personally, am very torn about whether I want to see the pandemic in literature or not. I’ve been living it for so long that I’m not sure I want to think about it, but I also think I’d like to read something that reflects some of the challenges I’ve faced, if only to help me process what has happened. Perhaps the ideal is to remove readers from the pandemic, but to still address that it’s happened and to explore its impacts. I, personally, feel very anxious about trying to return to a regular life, and I think it would make me happy to read about someone who has the same struggles. Perhaps I wouldn’t want to read an entire book about it, because it would be too heavy and it’s really too soon, but I do want to see characters that share my experience.
What About New Pandemics?
I’ve never been a fan of reading about sickness thanks to how doing so makes me fear catching said sickness, but the plague in City of the Plague God is so obviously magical that even I could get through it without much worry. But what about what’s to come? Is there going to be an influx of books about various deadly sickness spreading across the world, because I personally don’t think I could handle that. This doesn’t mean much, since I couldn’t handle it before, but it feels different now. Like, let’s say there’s an action movie about people trying to stop a bioweapon or whatever. This wasn’t personal before, but now I can clearly imagine the destruction and grief that comes with it and I’m not sure I can handle reading knowing that it’s so real. I can see how writing about sickness might be helpful, though, because the author can shape what happens and it isn’t out of control. There can be heroes who find out how to put a stop to it. It can have a clear ending point where anxiety and fear of what will happen next don’t have to exist. I suppose I can see how that might be appealing.
What’s All This Mean for City of the Plague God?
I’m not entirely sure. Did reading City of the Plague God remind me of the pandemic? Of course it did. But it’s hard to boil it down to just that because there’s a lot more to it. The sickness is in the background and it’s the character’s thoughts and emotions that matter. The pandemic doesn’t become the center of the world, of everyone’s lives; it’s just a part of the problem that Sik has to solve, and that’s it. How great would it be if you could go on a hero quest to solve the pandemic instead of sitting around, unable to do much about it? I really need this sort of purpose.