Book Review: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

The Gauntlet

Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster

Date of Publication: March 28th, 2017

Description:

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? 

Buy It From: Indigo | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

My Rating: ★★★★☆

I bought The Gauntlet for my younger cousin’s birthday, secretly hoping she would let me borrow it when she finished it. A ferocious reader herself, she finished it within a couple of days, and soon it was in my hands.

I basically read it in one sitting.

The Gauntlet is a fun, fast paced adventure set in a richly-described world trapped in a board game. The world within the board game has some great world building, and fantastical elements that really add something special to the story. Riazi’s descriptions of the setting are vibrant and help paint each scene perfectly, making you feel like you are actually there with Farah, Essie, and Alex. And the discussions about food will absolutely make your mouth water. There was plenty of action and unique events that kept the book interesting and kept me wanting to read more, to find out what would happen. There was even a moment where my heart stopped and my stomach dropped, a moment of oh no, which I wasn’t expecting but gladly welcomed.

Mini spoiler: there is no romantic-love subplot. Instead this book focusses on familial and platonic love, complete with complications. Its portrayal of family reminds me of my own, and I am such a huge sucker for family-driven books. It was interesting to read about Farah’s conflict within the game: does she go off to find her brother, or does she go on to the next challenge? Farah was well-balanced with her friends, and I really love that her brother had a hand in helping her out when she needed it the most. I know that some people do not understand the second-last challenge’s importance, but I liked it because it was a different kind of weakness that is not usually found in other books.

I did, however, find that sometimes it was hard to visualize and understand some of the actions, for example the first challenge. This may be because I am not familiar with the game, and that lack of knowledge likely made it harder to understand the challenge. In addition, sometimes the plot moved a little too fast for my liking, or I felt like the crew got through challenges a little too quickly. I definitely would have liked to see them spend more time on the challenges. I have not read a lot of MG for a while, though, so this may be my YA brain trying to shove more YA into MG.

Even with these minor setbacks, I thoroughly enjoyed this book for its creativity and focus on family.

Overall: The Gauntlet was an enjoyable read with loveable characters, lush descriptions, and interesting plot points and twists.

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