Hey all!! We are very excited to be reviewing an awesome new MG adventure/fantasy, THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi.
**Disclaimer: We received a finished copy from the publisher, S&S Canada, for review. This has not biased our opinions. Thank you!**
Before I dive into the review, you can take a look at the cover & synopsis:
A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.
When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.
Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?
First off, I have to say how excited I’ve been for this book, especially with the announcement of it being published under Salaam Reads. As soon as I got it in the mail (the day it came out), I knew I had to dive into it. Luckily that was the last week of classes before exams and I had basically 3 weeks off until our first exam. I spent that coming Thursday and Friday reading it. The only thing that got in my way was watching Beauty & the Beast on Friday, but even then I finished the book that night!
I fell in love with the concept as soon as I heard it. Anything Jumanji-esque captures my attention right away, and of course, I knew that a Middle Grade like this would do the concept justice. This was such a quick, fun read. I love how the diverse elements feel so natural. I’m not Bangladeshi, though I did know some of the foods that were mentioned, and I could easily visualize the places that were depicted. One metaphor that stuck with me was a palace with tips spun like cotton candy. The writing was definitely intended for a Middle Grade audience, and yet it was still super evocative and well-imagined in a way that I could definitely see in Karuna’s future YA works. I also really enjoyed the settings, especially the set-up of the levels in the Gauntlet and Paheli, and especially the souk!
What’s more, I really felt the connection between Farah, the main character, and her brother–the fear for him going missing, the obligation to be the Big Sister and somehow defeat villains in a strange new landscape. I also love how the book ties in the idea of different games/puzzles–and they’re no ordinary games/puzzles. Many of them are quite complex and I had to take some time to really visualize them, since I’m pretty used to straight-up card games, etc. Still, I think the pacing of the book was strong and I loved the way the author introduced a great, diverse cast of characters and, for some, left the ambiguity of their morality to question. My favourite character outside the main three was probably Vijay! He has such an interesting past.
This book can definitely be read by 10 year olds, but it could be easily enjoyed by an older audience, too. (Hey, I’m 20!)
Rating: 5/5 stars!
Until next time,