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The Gauntlet

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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?

304 pages, Hardcover

First published March 28, 2017

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About the author

Karuna Riazi

14 books147 followers
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. She holds a BA in English Literature from Hofstra University, and is an online diversity advocate, blogger, and educator. She is a 2017 honoree on NBC Asian America's Redefining A-Z list, featuring up and coming talent within the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, and her work has been featured on Entertainment Weekly, Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, Book Riot and Teen Vogue, among others.

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.

The Gauntlet (S&S/Salaam Reads, March 28, 2017) is her middle grade debut, with a companion, The Battle (August 2019). Her next title is A Bit of Earth, forthcoming from Greenwillow Books in 2022. She has also adapted The Jungle Book for the Apple TV series Ghostwriter (Sourcebooks/Sesame Workshop, 2019).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 463 reviews
Profile Image for Sue (Hollywood News Source).
781 reviews1,594 followers
March 4, 2017
They say good shoes take you to good places, I believe the same thing could be said to books. The Gauntlet is that book.

It will take you to a place where winning a challenge is a must to survive. It will take you to an unimaginable land where cultures intersect. It will take you to a community where vibrancy and comradery exist between a cluster of people.

It seems so simple, but the lasting effect is there. The Gauntlet easily become my favorite. It has everything I want in a book, there’s the poetic composition, subtleties, family and friend’s dynamics, and the wanderlust vibes. Also, I was really weak for the mouth-watering food descriptions. And, of course, the heart of the story which is Farah’s love to her young brother. Big sister FTW.

Verdict: Without doubt, The Gauntlet is going to places. I love it. Full review to come. A great start-up for people that are unfamiliar with MG, highly recommended to kids that enjoy challenges.
Profile Image for rachel, x.
1,719 reviews857 followers
October 11, 2017
The Gauntlet was one of my most highly anticipated releases of the year. The premise of retelling Jumanji, one of my all-time favourite childhood movies, with steampunk + Middle Eastern influences sounded too good to be true… which, in the end, it was. I know that I am definitely a black sheep with this opinion but I just did not enjoy this book as much as everyone else seemed to. I struggled to even make it to the end of the story! It was undeniably enjoyable but I just did not enjoy it that much.

The story was incredibly plot-driven and while I usually prefer my stories to have more of a focus on the characters, I could have forgiven that if the plotline had actually been interesting. In theory, I did enjoy exploring the world of Gauntlet with Farah. Riazi managed to capture the vibrancy of the Middle Eastern-inspired setting and it was a treat to see a such a rich, gritty non-Western fantasy world dripping with effortless diverse elements… but there is only so much a pretty backdrop can do. It cannot hide a boring plot and that was my main problem with this book: it was boring. I loved the idea of having to face three incredibly difficult, life-threatening challenges to win the game. It gave me HP & the Philosopher's Stone feels (!) but the challenges were so mild it made me cry. They were dull! There was not a single shred of urgency to them. One of them was literally a taste test… No, I’m not kidding. How am I meant to be scared for these kids when they are literally just tasting desserts? Is that really anyone’s idea of terrifying? It was incredibly underwhelming. I know some people are going to justify this by pointing out that this is an MG fantasy, not YA, but middle grade readers are not stupid or gullible. They do not need you to dumb down plotlines or skate around life or death situations. This should not be an excuse, especially because I can effortlessly list about five MG stories right now that balance the targeted audience with a gritty, complex plotline perfectly.

My other problem was with the characters. While Farah was a decent protagonist herself, the secondary characters did not have shining personalities. I felt like we barely got to know them at all, even though they were just as central and present in the plotline as Farah herself. I don’t even remember their names! Everything we knew about them was told to us by Farah’s inner monologue and I really wanted to get to know them from them.


If you are looking for a gorgeously written setting or a fantastically diverse cast, The Gauntlet may be for you but I was personally disappointed. I did not connect to the characters like I would have liked to. Farah was a decent protagonist but I didn’t feel like I got to know the secondary characters as well as we should. The plotline was also lacking. The gritty steampunk Jumanji retelling we were promised was… dull, to put it mildly. I was bored by the challenges and the story as a whole. I wanted more from this book but I am hopeful that Riazi’s sophomore story will much better.

Review copy provided by the publisher for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ava.
264 reviews315 followers
March 29, 2017
This is such an excellent Middle Grade novel. I'm so happy this book exists. It's fast-paced, beautiful, and intriguing, and perfect for all ages - not just middle grade readers. The stunning description will leave you hungry (for the described food) and wishing you could see what Farah and her friends are (for the architecture and more). I would HIGHLY recommend this one.

Profile Image for Gavin Hetherington.
673 reviews5,638 followers
May 3, 2020
I found this to be a very fun middle grade, taking a concept I absolutely love and making it such a thrill to read about. Three kids get sucked into a mechanical board game to save Farah's younger brother, only to find out they have the play the game and defeat the evil Architect to get back out. Stakes are high throughout and there are a lot of interesting parts of the book, such as the levels. Nicely written and an absolute thrill to read.
Profile Image for ♛ may.
806 reviews3,798 followers
May 11, 2020
Book 7 completed for #RamadanReadathon

this was such a cute, fun read.

honestly it felt akin to a rick riordan book to me. you have three kids who find themselves stuck in another, crazy interesting world where they are tasked to complete 3 challenges in order to save themselves and return home

it's like a steampunk jumanji (i never watched jumanji tho hehe) set in an south asian inspired world. the writing is absolutely gorgeous, the detailing of the world and the descriptions of food and setting, so very well done

i loved how the author was able to seamlessly entwine aspects of islamic & bangladeshi culture into the story. the fact that there's a hijabi main character that's faith and practices aren't the main conflict of the story 🥺🥺🥺🥺 she's just out here solving riddles and saving her little brother and just vibing with her hijab 🥺🥺🥺🥺 go queen!!

the only aspects that i can comment on are that i personally found the story repetitive. i'm definitely not the target demographic so that's on ME and my pickiness but i did find it very cute and refreshing and so much fun to read
Profile Image for CW ✨.
644 reviews1,696 followers
August 13, 2019
Jumanji + steampunk + Middle-Eastern influences + tons of awesome = The Gauntlet. 👌

- When I was a kid, I watched Jumanji and cried my eyes out because I was terrified. Haha! But THIS is awesome; perfect if you want an exciting adventure with unexpected twists and turns.
- This is a middle-grade book, but honestly? EVERYONE can enjoy this book! It's so much fun!
- I adored the characters! They showed strength through adversity and weakness, and showed that, by working together, we can accomplish amazing things.
- The descriptions of the food and scenery were lush and gorgeous.
Profile Image for Lauren Stoolfire.
3,568 reviews259 followers
May 18, 2017
The Gauntlet, a reverse steampunk-esque Jumanji and meets The Wizard of Oz inspired MG adventure with a Middle Eastern flair is exactly my cup of tea! I don't know about you, but the moment I heard about this novel I immediately knew I had to get my hands on a copy. I don't read middle grade that often, but this one sounded like it would be well worth my time. Sure enough, it absolutely paid off. There is so much to love about Riazi's diverse fantasy debut - it has something for everyone and it is perfect for readers of all ages who love a good adventure. I'm really looking forward to Karuna Riazi's next project!

Profile Image for Nafiza.
Author 6 books1,206 followers
April 29, 2017
What a ride.I don’t quite know how to begin this review.

So that’s how I will begin it. Ha. When I feel too much for a book, I generally don’t like talking about it because I want to keep these feelings close to me. I have known Karuna for a while now and have been anticipating this book ever since I knew it existed. Not just because she is my friend and a wonderful writer but also because how important this book is and what its existence means.

First though, the synopsis of The Gauntlet:

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?

The book opens at a gathering of relatives and friends (two of them) to celebrate Farah’s birthday. Farah has moved to a new place and is trying to settle into a new school, away from two of her closest friends. A new space has opened between them, a new strangeness that Farah doesn’t quite know how to smooth away. The atmosphere is filled with the smell of cooking food; there is mithai somewhere (in The Gauntlet, there’s always mithai somewhere).

When Ahmed jumps into the strange new board game that Farah’s aunt gifted her with and disappears, Farah and her friends have no choice but to follow him and bring him back. The synopsis tells you this but what it doesn’t express is the wonder of the world inside the game. The City of Paheli with its vibrant colours and desert storms. The souk, the sand, the movement, the tenor of a breathing place.

Karuna’s descriptions are wondrous and to me, they feel like looking into a mirror and seeing a familiar face looking back. I know someone like Madame Nasirah who is the game’s guide and who gives help to Farah, Alex, and Essie. She insists on feeding the children and that is such a familiar action from a character I am certain exists in my extended family. Our mothers/aunts always try to feed everyone they can.

The food as I have mentioned before is always present and always decadent and for me, so gloriously, familiar. I have talked before of reading about the high teas containing strange foods I can only read about in books. This was entirely different. In The Gauntlet I read about food that is familiar to me, food that I eat and also food I want to eat. Hah.

The pacing is on point. Farah and her friends have to complete certain challenges so there’s a wavelike motion in the pacing of the story. Momentum builds, the event happens, there is a lull and then the next event approaches and things repeat.

The relationships and the characters in The Gauntlet are also very well done. The friendship between Essie, Farah, and Alex is wonderfully portrayed. The kids have their own individual personalities and Karuna has illustrated this wonderfully in the little details. The relationship between Ahmed and Farah is perhaps the most complex one because Farah being the older sister feels responsibility for her younger brother but also a little bit of resentment. However, Ahmed pulls through in the end (to know what I mean by this you have to read the book).

Henrietta Peel, the very intelligent and intriguing lizard, was perhaps one of my favourite characters (it’s difficult to choose). Vijay is also intriguing and I reckon I would have like to read more of him and Aunt Zohra.

What most intrigued me about the novel is the climax. There is action, of course, but before that, curiously, there is a final challenge that shows the heart of the book. Rather than blood and duels, the antagonist and protagonist battle with their minds and their senses.

I could continue talking about this book but honestly, the most important thing I can say about it is: read it. Buy it for yourself, buy it for the child in your life. For some it will be a window into a strange new world, for others it will be a mirror which reflects shimmers of a life they didn’t expect to see in books. Diversity and the importance of representation aside, The Gauntlet tells a wonderful story of friendship and family. I strongly recommend it.
Profile Image for Agustina Uliarte.
169 reviews22 followers
August 2, 2018
4 estrellas. En un primer momento no me convenció la idea de que fuera un retelling de jumanji, pues nunca me gustó esa historia. Pero sorprendentemente logro engancharme al toque pues solo se queda con lo básico de jumanji que sería el juego que te atrapa y hay que ganar, pero el transcurso de la historia es muy distinta a la idea de jumanji, a mí parecer.
Los personajes principales son tres niños de 12 años, pero son tan inteligentes y habilidosos que parecían mayores.
La verdad súper recomendable. Es fresca, divertida y, principalmente, esta bien escrita.
Profile Image for sil ♡ the book voyagers.
1,064 reviews2,657 followers
March 5, 2017
The Gauntlet is for sure one of my most anticipated 2017 books. Karuna Riazi is my hero and I look up to her so much.

I saw a bit of Jumanji and a bit of Wizard of Oz to be honest too. I loved loved this book and how it was written. The chapters are short so it has that easy flow that middle grade novels have. It is 1000% adventures and action and games and all of these wonderful things everyone will love. It has a lot of puzzle games and board games, which I adore in real life and to see them in this book is just fabulous. Plus I didn't know all of them so it's always nice to find out about more new stuff!

This book is filled with delicious descriptions of food that made my mouth watered and made my tummy growled. I am the heart eyes emoji when I read those passages and I seriously felt like I could smell the desserts and snacks and sweets this story had.

And let's not forget our main character, Farah, and her two best friends, Alex and Essie. This book is all about friendship and family and bonding and teaming up with new friends. It's just a wonderful MG book that for sure kids will love and I'm sure teens/adults will be in wonder of such a magical world Karuna created.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,258 followers
January 11, 2020
I won a copy of The Gauntlet in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

Farah Mirza is a gamer from a family of gamers. The Mirzas love all sorts of tabletop games, card games, and puzzles. On her twelfth birthday, she mistakenly receives the Gauntlet, a malevolent and self-aware board game. When her younger brother, Ahmad, gets trapped inside the game, Farah and her two friends have no choice but to enter the game themselves and beat it in order to retrieve Ahmad and exit. But the Gauntlet has not played in over twenty years, and its Architect is … hungry.

I tried hard to put myself into a middle grade mindset for this one. My reading for younger audiences skews almost exclusively towards the older end of YA, partly because that’s the age group I’d teach if I were in a regular high school and because those are the stories that most appeal to me. Middle grade novels, of course, can often have simpler or at least less subtle structures and subtexts because they’re appealing to a younger demographic. While that’s definitely the case here, I think Riazi does a fantastic job telling a tale that will hold the interest of older readers as well. I can easily see a teenager or adult enjoying this (I did), and it’s the kind of story I could see a parent reading out loud to or with a child who is on the younger end of this audience.

The plot is an intense and fast-paced one. Structured around the three challenges that Farah, Essie, and Alex must win in order to defeat the Architect, Riazi gives neither her characters nor readers much time to breath as they rush all over the city of Paheli. Yet the challenges themselves take up little enough of the book (if anything, they feel rushed). In the intervals Riazi creates a dazzling environment for the Gauntlet: a dream-like, shifting fantasy city that would be marvellous if it weren’t out to get the players. The talking lizards are cool, though.

Farah shines as The Gauntlet’s protagonist. She’s 12, that impossible age that straddles childhood and adolescence. Riazi explores this without making it too big of a deal, mentioning how Farah is feeling awkward around her friend Essie because she worries board games might be too childish, and of course, exploring Farah’s changing relationship with Ahmad. This is a tall order to accomplish in a book that takes place, essentially, over the space of 24 hours, but I like what Riazi does here. Farah is clever, cunning, and courageous; these qualities allow her to excel at games and hence at the Gauntlet.

I wish the other characters had more prominence. Although individual personality elements shine through—Essie is the impetuous one, Alex the more reluctant but analytical one—they lack defining moments that let them become heroic figures in their own right. Farah shoulders most of the story here, with Alex and Essie serving as her foils, as comic relief, or just plain sidekicks.

The Gauntlet is receiving lots of attention for its Muslim cast of characters. Farah is a hijaabi and comments early on in the novel how, her family having moved to Manhattan, she feels out of place in a way she didn’t in Queens. This is an interesting observation for someone like me, who is neither Muslim nor female nor a resident of a metropolis so big it gets boroughs. I’m sure Muslim children, or children of Bangladeshi descent, will enjoy having a character who looks like them and comes from their cultural background as the hero of a story.

What you might not pick up on from the publicity, though, is the way Riazi casually normalizes the names of games, food, etc., that will be unfamiliar to most Western readers. They don’t even show up in italics, and although Riazi does an excellent job describing the various desserts and confections these names often correspond to, you’re best off Googling them so your mouth can water at their appearance. This is refreshing, because while it seems like books are making strides in terms of character representation, the cultures of those characters are often sprinkled in like some kind of exotic language layered atop English. In The Gauntlet, they are simply part of the Mirza household, just like Monopoly or marbles.

The Gauntlet is equal parts exciting and enchanting. It has a lot of moving elements that come together to create a great story. Its characters are not as dynamic or interesting as I’d like—but I’m not a regular reader of middle grade, so I’m not sure how much that’s par for the course. I’m having a hard time figuring out who wouldn’t enjoy this book, though. Older readers might find it a little lighter, certainly a much quicker read, but at the end of the day it’s the kind of story that any person can kick back and immerse themselves in for a few hours.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Alice.
229 reviews44 followers
November 1, 2017
1* dnf: 124/294 (I was wondering why I was reading this so fast when I realized I was trying to get it over with.)

I keep waiting for the game to actually start and the first game was really lame. I don't really care about the characters which is a problem. I feel like I kept waiting for the story to get to the point. Also it unnaturally throws in a lot of Farah's culture constantly at unnecessary moments. Wow CHAI TEA!!! So awkward and unnecessary what the hell. For example some of the foods and references to her past could have been left out. It wasn't blended well with the story like the magic tree house series where the information was actually interesting. The game was terrible. Reading a game about Mancala doesn't work at all.
Profile Image for Shira Glassman.
Author 27 books507 followers
May 23, 2017
In this book, a Bangladeshi-American tween named Farah, And Her Two Friends, have to battle a sadistic, hidden game-master in order to rescue her brother from a board game. They have to play by his rules -- showing up on time for each game, not making it too obvious they're trying to bust out, and only looking for poor Ahmad during their few moments of free time. The games include, for example, life-size Mancala with holes big enough to fall into that are also full of bones, so the whole thing is very cinematic veering on kiddie-appropriate horror.

My favorite characters were the other prisoners of the game, who populate what's basically a timeless Bangladeshi city complete with souk and palaces. The tween MC's meet a mysterious woman who keeps feeding them decadent lunches and then forgetting them entirely, a cute guy in a hot air balloon who's been trapped in this world since he was their age (I don't think he was described as cute in-text but he appealed to me and I liked the resolution of his storyline), and best of all--a Resistance composed entirely of lizards, led by Henrietta Peel. Yes, a female resistance captain who is also a lizard. I sure hope there's fan art!

The comparisons between the elevator pitches for The Gauntlet and that movie Jumanji are obvious, and possibly also to Labyrinth, but like JKR (who also built on the shoulders of MANY giants), Riazi shines most in all the bits that are completely new -- the cultural setting, for example, and the surprise resolution. Warning for readers who are the type to get hungry for what they read -- you are going to need snacks. There's even a game about snacks--that was one of my favorite parts.

Props to Riazi for a poignant bit of imagery in which we find out, when Farah gets the chance to drink moonlight, that it "tastes lonely." I love concepts like that. Also, Farah's from New York City and has just moved to a less diverse school where she's the only hijabi, so when she sees others who look like her in the game-world's marketplace, her reaction is "the feeling spread through her, a gulp of seltzer, bright and bubbly..."

There are bits where I felt like the references to real life got too detailed--for example, at one point they have to do something reminiscent of riding a skateboard, and it's not just "like riding a skateboard", there's an extra note thrown in there that it was her cousin who taught her to ride--but maybe these are there to give the audience a greater picture of Farah's "regular" life since we only meet her the morning of her getting sucked into the game.

I would highly recommend The Gauntlet as a book to hand the young person in your life who's into the "kids getting into fantastical adventures" genre. I did have a good time reading it, but I guess I haven't read very much Middle Grade lit in the past twenty years because it did feel a bit young for me (but it should! I am not the target audience; I'll be thirty-six this fall.)

TW for random blood and bones that don't.... belong to any of the MC's? Just used as horror elements.
Profile Image for zaheerah.
439 reviews109 followers
July 19, 2018
Barely adjusting to her new home in the Upper East Side, Bangladeshi-American kid Farah finds herself sucked into the game of The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand after her younger brother, Ahmad, vanishes into the game. Alongside her friends, she must complete three challenges and failure to win will trap them- and Ahmad- forever. 

I've been anticipating this book since Salaam Reads was first announced. And I can definitely confirm that this book was so worth the wait. 

I really, really enjoyed the world building and game design. The way the story is mapped out is really brilliant. I hope to, maybe, see a graphic novel of this series somewhere down the line because of the Middle Eastern and South Asian influences Raizi had made a very dazzling and creative world. The way the world moves in pieces like a game was so pretty to imagine.

Farah is pretty headstrong and a loveable lead who is very aware of her own weaknesses. She's constantly struggled with her want to ditch the challenge in search of her brother versus her need to navigate her and her friends out of the game. And she works alongside her friends to complete each challenge. Their friendship is very cute and they work well together, recognising each other's strengths and weaknesses. They're all very intuitive and logical in situations that would have me in tears. (ahah)

I think the only downside was the lack of characterisation for Essie and Alex. Farah's character comes out really strongly and the other two do come across as being more archetypes rather than their own persons. Also, its cultural aspects were so adorable and great to read. While the world seems almost alien to her friends, Essie and Alex, Farah finds familiarity in it and so did I. I wished this book existed when I was a kid. 

Overall, it's a solid fantasy debut in an exciting game world. At its heart, a story of family and friendship, making it a great for any young readers. 
Profile Image for Jamie (Books and Ladders).
1,336 reviews190 followers
August 2, 2016
I read a sample of this one courtesy of Simon Teen Canada. And OMG. It is SO GOOD. I can't wait until the full title releases so I can read the rest.
Profile Image for Delaney.
653 reviews106 followers
August 30, 2020
This is a debut novel. And like many debut novels, it's not up to par quite yet. The Gauntlet was just so: It had a lot of potential, but did not meet them.

There were a lot of interesting, individual components:

*Hijabi protagonist who has roots in Pakistan
*Transported into a game with puzzles as challenges
*The only way to escape from game is to win three challenges if not they get trapped forever
*Protag's brother has ADHD, majority side characters are persons of color (only one was white)
*Middle Eastern inspirations - food, setting, clothing
*Steampunk details
*Sibling (sister-brother) bond
*Friendship aspect (NO romance at all)

However, when all these components were put together, it fell flat. For much of the book I was asking myself, "This is interesting, so why am I bored?" I read middle grade often so I knew that age wasn't a factor to my displeasure.

Eventually, I realized a big reason I was bored was because nothing was fleshed out.

We follow along with three characters: Farah (the main leader), Alex, and Essie. I was hoping to have strong friendship content, but there was NONE! In the beginning, it's mentioned that Farah has moved away so she feels insecure if she is as close with Alex and Essie. And that could have been explored more! There was none of that, so you didn't get a strong sense that they are close or even friends.

Farah, as well, I didn't get a strong pull from her as a character except that she wears a hijab. It is mentioned more times than any characterization we see from her. She is pushed into this role as "the leader" between the three, but I still didn’t get a strong sense of who she is. Plus, the reason she enters the game is to rescue her brother, but even that bond felt lacking and the brother, quite honestly, was annoying.

Similarly, the intriguing game they are trapped into to play these puzzles that has Middle Eastern AND steampunk inspirations needed more on it. I had difficulty in visualizing the world and Karuna Riazi had a tendency to have unconnected actions so it was hard to follow with actions. It had a lot of point A to point C, missing point B.

Overall, the fast pacing left it difficult to follow sequences, develop characters and the world, and nurture the plot. It had a quick climax and unsatisfying resolution to an overall way too easy adventure. Riazi had an interesting concept, but I unfortunately did not enjoy the execution as much.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews127k followers
July 18, 2017
This was my most anticipated book of the year and it did not disappoint! In fact, I loved it even more than I expected to. Farah and her friends, brother, family members, and all the people she encounters in The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand are real people who absolutely leapt off the page, and their adventures read in glorious 3D. So magical and lovely.

— Annika Barranti Klein

from The Best Books We Read In April 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/05/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Gabe Novoa.
Author 6 books689 followers
April 9, 2017
This was so fun! I really enjoyed Farah's fascinating (and delicious-sounding) journey through The Gauntlet. Don't read this while you're hungry; those food descriptions are to die for.

Can't wait to see more from Karuna! :D
Profile Image for Marianne (Boricuan Bookworms) .
802 reviews402 followers
October 25, 2017
Um... maybe 3.5 stars?

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I found it very hard to get into the story. A lot of things went over my head, like the challenges the kids were playing... I just couldn't conceptualize them at all. It may be a me problem, because the book itself is pretty enjoyable.
Profile Image for A Canadian Girl.
471 reviews107 followers
May 6, 2017
With the launch of Salaam Reads – an imprint of Simon and Schuster focused on bringing Muslim voices into publishing – and an author known for being passionate about diversity, Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet was a novel that I know many people were excited about. After reading The Gauntlet, I find that my thoughts on it are quite scattered, and so the best way for me to write a cohesive review was to create a pros and cons list.

- As a South Asian, I was really looking forward to having a protagonist whose upbringing reflected mine to some degree. More importantly, as a Muslim who wears a hijab, it was amazing to finally read a novel with a hijabi protagonist.
- I loved the premise of being sucked into fantasy city within a board game, especially one that has clearly been inspired by Middle Eastern architecture.

- The plot felt very rushed, with Farah and her friends having to quickly complete challenges and run all over the city of Paheli to try and find Ahmad, her little brother.
- I had to laugh when I found out who the Architect was.
- Farah’s friends could have been more developed. They didn’t have much personality and felt like sidekicks rather than actual friends.
- I didn’t like that Ahmad’s behaviour was solely attributed to ADHD. While children with ADHD may have trouble controlling their impulses and act out, the way Ahmad behaves is more due to his environment – he appears to be spoiled and used to getting his way – than because of ADHD.
Profile Image for Katie.
516 reviews189 followers
March 5, 2017
I adored this book! A great adventure story of friendship and sibling love set in a Jumanji type game. (Imagine getting sucked into the game than the game invading your world.) If you enjoy fun, action packed middle reader books you MUST check this one out! As a bonus you get all of the amazing food descriptions that make you want to order Indian food ASAP.
Profile Image for Amanda.
3,654 reviews30 followers
September 1, 2017
This book is all over the place so pardon this review as it jumps around too. First off, my thanks and awards go to:
1.) Google! You were there for me throughout the entirety of this book; for ALL of the many, many, did I mention MANY (?) Bangladeshi cultural references that I had no clue about, you had my back, Google. Apu; chenna murki; samosas; pakoras; salwar kameez; Masi; chutku; jalis; masala; dupatta....all these words and more (and that's just by p. 51--the book is 294 pages in case you were wondering). Will children take the time to stop and learn what these possibly unfamiliar things are the way I did? Will they just sail over children's heads?

2.) The timeliness of the author/publishing house for ripping off the Jumanji theme in time for the upcoming movie! No worries though everyone, because as entertaining as the Rock will surely be, it won't compare to Robin Williams, and in its turn, the first movie was very different from the Jumanji book--just as this is really quite different and flat, all in all.

3.) The cover is brilliant and amazing! As soon as I saw it I HAD to read this book! And the inside blurb was so promising! And spooky! And the characters were so diverse! And then....


1.) On the very second page, the foreshadowing began. Then before we were even 10 pages in the author dropped this:
p. 8 "She knew that Ahmad's ADHD meant that he couldn't always control himself. Baba said Ahmad had moments where he was trapped in his own overwhelming emotions, like being lost in a frustrating maze, and Farah had to be patient until he found his way out again."
Let's just stop here for a moment. As a parent and as an educator, I can tell you that there's a HUGE difference between being patient and between giving a child their own way every single time they are acting frustrated.

Things get worse on p. 7 "Ahmad aimed a kick at Farah's shin, which, from years of practice, she dodged. Today's tantrum was nothing new. Trying to avoid just this scenario, Baba and Ma gave Ahmad gifts even on Farah's birthday to keep his antics to a minimum." Even on his sister's birthday, he is given gifts! WHAT?! He is bribed and spoiled. Yes, this is exactly what this child needs to help his ADHD.

This dreadfulness continues

2.) Farah's sidekicks, um, I mean her shadows, um, I mean her friends, are so distinctly forgettable that I couldn't even almost bother to write about them, which is a shame. I cannot even remember their names or distinctive features about them. Farah herself is rather whiny, which may come from continually have to subjugate her will to that of her younger brother. I applaud her desire to protect and care for Ahmad; yeah big sister for the win! Yeah family!

I also applaud her good sportsmanship throughout the game. I applaud the friends for sticking together and not bailing on each other. However, there really wasn't anything else to the friends; they were so one-dimensional. They could have been developed so much further! I wanted to believe in their relationship, and cheer them on, but there was nothing there. It was flat and forgettable. This leads me to ...

3.) This whole publishing house and this author and this book are all about diversity, and yet, I cannot remember much about this book. What is true diversity? The MC is a hijabi, the settings and the food are quite different than what most people would read about, and yet does that make it diverse? I feel this could have been developed further rather than just throwing a lot of razzle-dazzle setting at the readers and mentioning a lot of good sounding foods. *sigh*

4.) This story is perplexing to me; the challenges are not, let's be quite honest, all that challenging. Playing mancala? Eating sweets? Ho-hum. The whole world is supposed to be DANGEROUS!!! and this? Not so much. Everything is very driven (adventure! adventure! adventure! nothing happens whine whine adventure! adventure! adventure! transition nothing really happens here adventure! adventure! adventure!) but not very well told.

I wanted to love this book, but there was just too much going wrong.
Profile Image for Polenth Blake.
Author 22 books49 followers
March 17, 2017
Farah and her friends get caught in a magical game. They'll have to win challenges if they want to escape.

Farah is a quiet and analytical sort of person, who comes from a family that play a lot of games. I liked that she is Bangladeshi and a practising Muslim, who wears a hijab. This is treated in a positive way. Her friends have known her for a long time, so there's no hostility or questioning from them (there's some from the children from Farah's new school, but this isn't shown in detail).

Some of the side characters are fun, such as the giant lizard, but I wasn't really feeling Farah's two friends. Part of the issue was the time limit on everything they did, so there wasn't the sort of downtime where they could talk to each other. There's an added distance because Farah hasn't seen them for some time and doesn't know what to say.

When it comes to the gameplay aspect of the story, the book delivers on its promise. The game world is an elaborate clockwork construction with multiple layers. The children have to play games, solve puzzles, and all the while keep an eye on the bigger stakes. Due to them looking for Farah's younger brother, Ahmad, there's time for exploration of some of the world's secrets. It's very imaginative with a steampunk vibe. Though again, there were points where things rushed by rather quickly, as the characters weren't in some areas long enough to really get a feel for them.

My biggest issue was with Ahmad. He's a seven-year-old with ADHD. Before ADHD is mentioned, I thought he must be dying, because the family avoids upsetting him and doesn't set any boundaries for him. Farah is expected to go along with anything Ahmad wants. She has to play with him instead of her friends and she has to let him win every game. Ahmad has to have presents on anyone's birthday, though still demands to open and own Farah's presents. When she stands up to him, she knows she'll get in trouble if he throws a tantrum, as though it's unreasonable for Farah to want things for herself. This is blamed on ADHD, when it's really about how the family react to Ahmad. Added to this, Ahmad's mind is described as maze-like, as though he's an unfathomable puzzle to be solved. I wondered if all this might be addressed later in the book, but it isn't.

I was down with the steampunk game, the people that lived inside it, and the overall puzzle-solving plot. I liked Farah as a main character. However, Ahmad's treatment made me uncomfortable. It also felt like the pace moved a bit too quickly in places.

[A copy of this book was received from the publisher for review purposes]

Review from: http://blog.polenthblake.com/2017/03/the-gauntlet-karuna-riazi/
Profile Image for Rashika (is tired).
976 reviews712 followers
December 20, 2017
Actual rating 3.5

***This review has also been posted on Xpresso Reads

Things You Need To Know About The Gauntlet

1. It is a great book for kids who love games and kids who love RP games. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you were made a character in your fav game? WELL THIS BOOK ANSWERS all those questions and more.

2. Friendships are a huge deal in this book. Farah and her friends grew apart when she moved and as they are forced into The Gauntlet, they reconnect and work together to rescue Farah’s brothers. Lots of cutes to go around.

3. It is fast paced. While I do enjoy a fast paced book, I did feel like it was a little rushed in terms of development and transitions from challenge to challenge.

4. FOOD PORN. Lots and lots of a+ food porn to be had in this delightful book. Seriously.

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5. Just, generally, worth the read. I mean seriously, it’s got a little bit of magic, a little bit of friendships, a little bit of sketchy villains and a whole lot of adventure to be had.

Note that I received a finished copy of this book for review
Profile Image for Hannah.
Author 5 books206 followers
April 19, 2018
Thank the lawd for middle grade fantasy that isn't Eurocentric or tired and derivative. This has all the things you want from a portal fantasy quest, from physical to mental challenges, but the architecture, the characters, the games (mancala! I put this book down every two sentences in that chapter and had to go find a mancala app until I can retrieve my gameboard from my mother; I probably could have spent half the time I did on this book had I not kept stopping for that), and the food make it stand out--not just for its diversity, which is unbelievably refreshing, but also because they make it feel so much realer than many other fantasies. Now that I think about it, probably the reason so many other books of this genre fail to be memorable or page-turny is that they are so used to the tropes and settings and cultural icons they draw on that they forget to actually be imaginative about them. So then they're boring af, because the author forgets that fantasy=imaginative fiction.

Anyway, this book is for all readers of all backgrounds the end buy it the end for real now.
Profile Image for Stacie (Shy Book Nerd).
394 reviews87 followers
March 14, 2017
Actual rating: 4.5 stars

This was such a delightful read! I loved the Middle Eastern folklore, and the games they played. I wanted to jump in and play too. It really felt like I was in the game with such beautiful descriptions. And the food! All the different foods that were mention made me hungry. I want to try everything, especially the sweets!! I really liked the three friends Farah, Essie, and Alex. They were a trio that no matter what, stuck together through thick an thin. Even when they got on each other's nerves, they some how managed to work things out and not let the worst come between them. I wish I had friends like that at that age. As soon as this book comes out I am buying a copy for my son because I know he would enjoy this type of book. I hope the author writes more stories like this!
Profile Image for Katherine Locke.
Author 14 books507 followers
April 25, 2017
Ahhh I never marked this as read! I LOVED this book. It was really fun from start to finish, and the voice felt really authentic. I loved the sibling relationship and the friendships in the book, and I can really see kids reading this book and talking about it together. My copy's heading to my mom's classroom for her upper level readers! Definitely high on my rec pile for middle grade!

Also, I know people are always looking for books to rec to all genders for this age group: I think any kid reader into fantasy and adventure would like this book.
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