Title: THE GAUNTELT by Karuna Riazi
Genre: Middle Grade steampunk/sci-fi/fantasy
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
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?
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised I ended up really enjoying this. Pitched as a steampunk Jumanji, I was hooked just from the synopsis. This was super fun, super quick and a great middle grade for people who don’t read much middle grade!
I really liked all of our main characters, especially Farah. Her love for her brother and her determination to find him was really admirable. I must admit there were times I was worried her determination would get her in trouble with the Architect, but nevertheless, I loved that about her. I also really liked Alex and Essie. Both were unique in their own way and I just loved them both. I also really loved their interactions with each other, with Essie and with the adults they met.
I honestly just loved all of the relationships and interactions in this! It was so great to see such amazing #ownvoices rep in a middle grade novel! It was also great to see some hijaabi rep in middle grade too! When I get a chance, I’ll certainly be recommending the local primary school order this one in!
This is actually the first plot driven book I’ve read in a while! I’ve been reading mostly contemporaries, and so I haven’t had to review a great plot in a while! Anyways. I really enjoyed the plot for this one and thought it was super engaging! It was so fun to read about the challenges the trio had to do, and the pace made everything perfect. Although this took me longer to read than I had hoped, I was on the edge of my seat for most of this book & the plot was so fast paced and engaging that when I really got into it, I could hardly put it down!
I felt that everything flowed together really well and there weren’t many plot holes at all. At first, I found things a little confusing, but once you keep reading, you get the hang of everything and it all makes sense.
I always love reading debut novels and then reading more books by that author to see how they improve. Karuna Riazi already writes better than quite a few authors I’ve read who have published multiple books! Riazi’s writing is beautiful and enchanting and the descriptions of everything, as well as the fast pace the plot moves at, keeps you hooked from the very beginning. I felt that everything was so well-described and I could imagine each scene playing out in my head like a movie. I certainly thing this would make for an amazing movie one day and I cannot wait for Karuna Riazi to write more books!
I very very highly recommend this book! If you’re new to Middle Grade like me, this is such the perfect book to read. I also totally got the Jumanji vibes from this, so if you loved Jumanji, definitely check this out.
Thanks for reading!