Review: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

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?


Song For This Book: Quit Playing Games With My Heart by Backstreet Boys
Why? I know this is technically a love song, but it talks about games, and some of the games played in The Gauntlet are totally playing games with Farah’s heart. So it works.


I received a copy of this book from Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

As soon as I heard this being compared to Jumanji, I was 100% in. I’m a huge fan of the original story, and I was excited to see what sort of story this would be. And while I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Jumanji, it was a fun story and one hell of an adventure that I have no doubt will be a huge hit with the middle grade crowd.

The Good Points of The Gauntlet:

The games and puzzles within the Gauntlet are brilliant. The adaptions of board games and guessing games are so much fun and they way that the game plays against Farah and her friends is a lot of fun.

I loved all of the characters in this book. Farah, Essie, and Alex are all unique, fun kids, and the author doesn’t shy away from giving them positive and negative traits, even with how short the book is and how little time Riazi has to develop them. The inhabitants of the Gauntlet and the adults in the story are also all realistic and well developed.

This is one of the best depictions of ADHD I’ve seen in a story for youth. While everyone with ADHD is different, I felt that this was a reasonable depiction of how it manifests at Ahmed’s age, based on my work with people with it.

The world building in this book is brilliant. It was so easy to imagine the places that Farah and her friends went and the descriptions were beautifully done with the perfect amount of detail.

The Downsides of The Gauntlet:

The games felt a little too easy for the kids. I know that it’s a middle grade book, and that it’s short, and all that, but I would have liked to see them struggle a little more. They’re three kids, and they succeeded without too much effort in a game that’s been around for ages. It felt a lot like Harry Potter and his friends solving a bunch of puzzles designed to keep out adults in the Philosopher’s Stone: just a little too unrealistic.

The writing is fine in terms of being clean and proper grammar and all that, but I had the hardest time getting into it. I liked the story, but the writing style just didn’t work for me.

As mentioned above, I think it would have been better if Farah and her friends had gotten frustrated with Ahmed and his ADHD. It’s just not that realistic for them to be so accommodating. Maybe Farah would have been, because she’s so used to it, but her friends likely wouldn’t be so easy about it. It just didn’t seem realistic in this sense.

All in all, The Gauntlet is a fun, adventurous read. It has some really incredible world building going on, and I loved all of the games and challenges within the book. Riazi has put together a great book for middle grade-aged kids. If you’re a fan of board games, amazing descriptions of food, great world building, and smart-as-heck kids, you’ll likely enjoy the Gauntlet.

Find The Gauntlet on Book Depository.

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8 thoughts on “Review: The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

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