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?
As soon as I heard about The Gauntlet I knew I had to read it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen right away when it was released. Life got in the way but once I actually had time to sit down and read it I was blown away. I LOVED IT! It was the perfect mix of fantasy, action and suspense. I say this a lot about books that I’ve enjoyed, but it was seriously difficult to put down. I just kept on getting sucked into the adventure.
The main theme of the book is friendship and family. It’s what motivates the characters and drives the plot forward. The friendship between Essie, Farah, and Alex is fantastic and wonderfully written. They are each their own person, with their own quirks, strengths and weaknesses. I loved how they were strong on their own, but even more so when working together. And this book isn’t about physical strength, but about intelligence, loyalty and dedication. While the friendship between the three main characters was my favourite aspect of the book, I also found Farah’s relationship with her younger brother Ahmed to be very interesting and complex. It pulled Farah in so many directions and had her battling between her responsibility to protect him and her need to be on her own.
I’m really starting to enjoy reading middle grade novels. The short chapters made the story flow. While I like reading fast paced books, sometimes the action went by too quickly. This is really my only issue with the book. At times I wanted more…more information, a few more moments to get to know the fabulous supporting cast of characters, but the chapter would end and the topic would change.
The descriptions in this book, from the scenery to the food to the never ending amounts of sand, amazed me. I felt like I was there with Essie, Farah, and Alex, running from a sandstorm, dodging large camel spiders and drinking sweet tea in the souk. Talking about tea…the food descriptions made my stomach growl. Everything sounded so delicious! I’ve never read a book that’s made me feel so hungry before.
This is a must read for middle graders and adults! It’s such a fun book that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It has action, friendships, ghosts, talking lizards…what more could you want? Just go out, pick up a copy and READ IT!
About the Author
Karuna Riazi is a born and raised New Yorker, with a loving, large extended family and the rather trying experience of being the eldest sibling in her particular clan. Besides pursuing a BA in English literature from Hofstra University, she is an online diversity advocate, blogger, and publishing intern. Karuna is fond of tea, Korean dramas, writing about tough girls forging their own paths toward their destinies, and baking new delectable treats for friends and family to relish. Her dessert of choice is a lemon bar, which always promise a sharp zest of intrigue along with the reassuring sugar of a happy ending.