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The Gauntlet #2

The Battle

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The game begins again in this gripping follow-up to The Gauntlet that’s a futuristic middle eastern Zathura meets Ready Player One!

Four years after the events of The Gauntlet, the evil game Architect is back with a new partner-in-crime—The MasterMind—and the pair aim to get revenge on the Mirza clan. Together, they’ve rebuilt Paheli into a slick, mind-bending world with floating skyscrapers, flying rickshaws run by robots, and a digital funicular rail that doesn’t always take you exactly where you want to go.

Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mirza struggles to make friends at his new middle school, but when he’s paired with his classmate Winnie for a project, he is determined to impress her and make his very first friend. At home while they’re hard at work, a gift from big sister Farah—who is away at her first year in college—arrives. It’s a high-tech game called The Battle of Blood and Iron, a cross between a video game and board game, complete with virtual reality goggles. He thinks his sister has solved his friend problem—all kids love games. He convinces Winnie to play, but as soon as they unbox the game, time freezes all over New York City.

With time standing still and people frozen, all of humankind is at stake as Ahmad and Winnie face off with the MasterMind and the Architect, hoping to beat them at their own game before the evil plotters expand Paheli and take over the entire world.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published August 27, 2019

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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 32 reviews
August 13, 2019
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for the review copy in exchange for an honest review. This does not change my opinion in anyway.

2,5 stars

TW: Police schooting at Children / Fire Bombs

The Battle is the sequel to The Gauntlet, and almost like a companion novel. Unfortunately it could not quite live up to the first book. The compelling things from the first book seemed to have fallen away.

The Battle focuses on Ahmad, the younger brother of Farah who she had to find back in the first book. The game was destroyed but managed to rebuild itself and took a more modern route, appearing to Ahmad as a console game. Inside the game everything was also videogame like.

Taking the setting from the middle eastern setting to a generic video game made it lose quite a lot for me. The clear descriptions the first book had felt like they were nowhere to be found in here. It was generic. I had little idea what anything looked like. Adding on to that, the game lost its clear rules and there was just chaos with the challenges. I had no idea what exactly we were heading for in most challenges. It didn’t make it a fun read.

I was excited we got Ahmad as a main character now. From the first book we learned that he had ADHD and I was excited we were going to get that rep in here more front and center. Except I don’t think we did. I think it was mentioned way at the start of this book but the rest of the book just seemed to ignore it. Or that is how I felt in any case.

A theme of the book is friendship which is great. However I don’t understand this friendship. She never gave him attention, never stuck up to him, never smiled at him, nothing. Then this game appeals to her (as the game does) and whoop there she is. They trust each other and that is the end. Again, nothing is actually talked about. Also her personality gave me a whiplash, it was all over the place.

Also there was scene where the police was trying to catch the children and shooting flame bombs at them or something. This bothered me because it certainly didn’t need the violence and it has the potential to be quite triggering for this age group.

Overall I unfortunately didn’t quite enjoy this sequel like I did the first book.
Profile Image for Avery (Book Deviant).
372 reviews90 followers
July 5, 2019
a fun read! i enjoyed the first a lot more, and while there were a few hiccups here and there i ultimately enjoyed this sequel!
Profile Image for Tova.
632 reviews
August 12, 2019
Actually 3.5 out of 5

RTC upon publication date. Thanks so much to Saalam Reads/Simon & Schuster/ Lili Feinberg for the ARC.
Profile Image for Kirin.
450 reviews27 followers
August 11, 2020
This claims to be a companion book to The Gauntlet, but it does rely heavily on details from the first to make sense of who some of the characters are as this book does little to explain them and advance their story.  In reality the book is very similar to the first book, but sadly not as fun.  I was disappointed in the 295 page AR 5.2 book, but my fourth and fifth grade boys enjoyed it as they had few expectations and the fast pace kept the book fun.  


It has been four years since Bengali American Ahmad Mirza has left the game world, Paheli, with his sister Farah and her friends.  The old board game has been destroyed and the reboot focuses on a new video game setup.  This time around Ahmad is the main character and with his ADHD he finds himself getting in trouble a lot in school and desperate for a friend.  When a mysterious package holding a video game shows up and Winnie sticks up for him, things are possibly looking up. When all of New York freezes at the insertion of the game, however it clearly is not.  Winnie and Ahmed are off to battle the Architect and MasterMind to unfreeze their beloved city and escape Paheli.  

Different battles and characters inch the duo closer to winning, but facing their fears and  being sidetracked by remnants of the last game trying to return make everything complicated.  Ahmed's uncle returns to the game, giant mice try and help, crazy monkeys distract, and flying rickshaws populate the eastern inspired world filled with Bengali, and Arab references.


I love that it is a Muslim kid with some struggles at the helm, but there is really so very little character building that it ultimately doesn't count for much in the long run.  The book is fast paced and fantastical, but I constantly felt confused.  The challenges were disjointed, there wasn't a clear objective, Ahmed didn't recall being there before or that Vijay bhai had somehow come back with them, the mice help and then they are absent, and there wasn't really a big reveal or explanation resolving any of it.  It felt all over the place and with little world building I didn't feel like I could even picture what Paheli looked like, so forget feeling what the characters felt or imaging the intensity that that the game was running on.  It seemed like an updated version of the first book, but not done as well at all.


Pretty clean, some intensity, some fighting/battling, death, nothing detailed nor grotesque.


I think the book is great to have in a classroom or on a home book shelf especially if the Gauntlet was enjoyed, but I wouldn't use it as a book club book because it doesn't offer much to talk about.  There isn't a cathartic release or even an under current of family and friendship and loyalty, it really is just surface level story telling.
Profile Image for Anita McDivitt Barrios.
949 reviews11 followers
September 16, 2021
I've been on a bit of a hunt for rpg (role playing game) middle grade fiction, and this one certainly fits the bill! It's a gentle, wonderfully diverse tale that takes place in a detailed, fantastic fiction world of Paheli, a game lower middle grade readers can get lost in. The idea of levels and playing a game with rules that seem to change as you go is one kids will really dig into.

Twelve-year-old Ahmad and Winnie are sucked into the game, inadvertently stopping everything in NYC for game play instead. They discover a game world, Paheli, that is eerily familiar to Ahmad. As they make allies, and Ahmad finds a long-lost Uncle once trapped in the game, they are introduced to levels of the "original" game that are downright dilapidated and in need of (coding) repair. The other levels, closer to the surface of Paheli, are slick, sleek and near-impossible to win.

Who's keeping the core of Paheli alive? The new coder, the Mastermind, or another force the kids have yet to uncover? And is it worth saving, or does it have another agenda, a nefarious one the kids have not even guessed at yet? Enjoy the read.

Looking for more book suggestions for your 7th/8th grade classroom and students?

Visit my blog for more great middle grade book recommendations, free teaching materials and fiction writing tips: https://amb.mystrikingly.com/
Profile Image for CW ✨.
644 reviews1,696 followers
August 14, 2019
A cute and fun story! The Battle is the sequel to The Gauntlet and is action-packed with some fun twists.

- Follows Ahmad, a Bangladeshi-American and autistic kid, and Winnie, a Black girl, are thrust into the world of Paheli, a place that Ahmad draws about and seems to know, though he can't quite remember why.
- The concept of a modern Paheli based on New York was such a cool idea, and I loved the meld of Middle-Eastern influences with technological elements!
- I thought the challenges in this were fun, but didn't have the same sort of ... significance as the first book. The challenges in the first book were about countering each kid's strength, whereas this one was a little bit more haphazard (unless I'm missing something)!
- Nonetheless, I thought this book had a really strong beginning, had some cool twists that readers may like, but had a weaker ending. I would've loved to see more build up!
- I kinda love how, similarly to Jumanji and its 2017 remake, The Gauntlet involved a board game whereas The Battle involved a handheld console? That little parallel was really cool.
- Ultimately, a nice, fun, and easy read! Though maybe not as strong as the first book, it's still an enjoyable story.
Profile Image for Lisa Dobra.
216 reviews4 followers
April 20, 2021
I really enjoyed Riazi’s The Gauntlet, so I was excited to pick this one up. While this is technically a sequel, it can definitely be read as a standalone novel. I enjoyed the story and the development of Ahmad and Winnie’s friendship. A solid MG fantasy for readers who are also gamers, or who look like fast-paced novels.
Profile Image for Alex  Baugh.
1,954 reviews108 followers
October 14, 2019
It's been four years since Farah Mirza proved that "there is no one who knows how to play - and win - a game better than a Mirza" in The Gauntlet. And if you read The Gauntlet, you will no doubt remember her younger brother Ahmad, and Farah's quest to rescue him from the game world of Paheli that he found himself in or remain there until another game player comes along and wins.

Ahmad is now a 7th grader at PS 52 on New York's Upper East Side. He's not the star student his sister was, he still has difficulties paying attention in school and always drawing an elaborate game world called Paheli. Ahmad has not recollection of actually being in Paheli, thinking his drawing are inspired by family trips to India and Bangladesh, instead. But he really gets in trouble when a mysterious package arrives at school, addressed to Ahmad and sent by Farah, now a student at Princeton. And thanks to the smartest girl in class, Winnie Williamson, the school lets him have the package, which turns out to be a game cartridge called The Battle.

Almost as soon as they load it, New York freezes, Ahmad and Winnie find themselves in the world of Paheli and the game begins. The first person in hologram form that they meet is the MasterMind, master coder and rebuilder of Paheli "all new and upgraded for the twenty-first century." She's working for the game master known simply as the Architect. The object of the game is to win the three challenges the MasterMind and the Architect set up and New York along with all its occupants will be unfrozen.

After they learn the object of the game, Ahmad and Winnie make their way to teashop of Madame Nasirah, the gamekeeper. Her job is to guide and help players with the game. She gives them each a knapsack with several items to help them: a map, a water bottle, a lantern, and snacks. Fortified, they are ready to face their three challenges and unfreeze New York.

Along the way, Ahmad and Winnie meet some Paheli residents from Farah's game, besides Madame Nasirah and Lord Amari the Architect. Vijay Bhai, who was 12 when he was left behind in Paheli after his friend Zohra Bhuiyan was ejected from the game by the Architect (see page 214 in The Gauntlet). And Titus Salt, former controller of Paheli, moving the city with clockwork precision, now haunting alleyways since the MasterMind took over Paheli.

The three challenges are as action packed as any video game, all the more so because the MasterMind keeps tweaking the code. Unfortunately, she's tweaked the life right out of Paheli, as T.T., a giant mouse explains "The code doesn't allow for life." For example, the souk used to be a place teeming with vendors, shopkeepers, shoppers, and good smells, now they have repetitive conversations while repeating the same actions over and over. The excitement and activity in the souk was one of the things I really liked about The Gauntlet, and I missed here.

In all fairness to the character of Ahmad, I found him to be super annoying in The Gauntlet and even in the beginning of The Battle, but he did grow and change by the end of the book for the better. Winnie, who is black, is a nice character, smart and kind. She reminded me a little of Farah, but she could have been fleshed out just a bit more.

On the whole, The Battle was a fun book to read, and although I have referred to The Gauntlet a number of times, I do think that this sequel would stand alone. Bottom line: I was very excited when I heard there would be a sequel to the first book, and while I wasn't totally disappointed by this book, it pains me to say that I didn't really love it as much as the first book - and I totally blame it on the MasterMind.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received from Salaam Reads
547 reviews5 followers
January 26, 2020
I loved the cultural elements in this book, and the writer is clearly very talented, but unfortunately I can't really recommend this one. The book's biggest problem? It's boring. Here, best I can tell, is why:

One of the biggest issues, in my mind, is that we spent so little time at the beginning of the book getting to know the characters that I never really felt I understood them very well. Even now, having read the entire book, I can't clearly state what the main character, Ahmad's character arc was. He seemed to vacillate. First he's an impetuous, trouble-maker, but then he's the one who's being cautious; first he doesn't really trust anyone, but then in this other case he trusts too quickly. He was just all over the place. We see cultural elements, which added a lot of lovely texture to the story, but even when things are brought up, like memories he has from early trips abroad, we're never given any more information than that, so it didn't really shine a light on who he was as a character/person. It felt like very shallow character development.

Next culprit? Plausibility issues. When we first meet Ahmad, he's in trouble at school. Teachers are grilling him about something he did. It was clearly bad. Really bad. Ultimately we find out that the big bad thing he did was ... somehow get access to a package which had been mailed to him at the school when he was supposed to be in detention. That's it. That's the horrible thing he did. This is one of those instances where you just want to shake the character because all they have to do is communicate a tiny bit, and there ya go, problem solved. Except for some unknowable reason, he refuses to. Ugh. For what it's worth, there must have been another, underlying bad thing to land him in detention in the first place, but we never really find out what it was. So it all felt very murky, like the author telling us he's a trouble-maker except she couldn't come up with a way to make him bad enough to be convincing to the reader, but not so bad that readers wouldn't engage with him. So what we're left is the fact that this kid is in serious, will-they-kick-me-out-of-school trouble for having somehow come into possession of his own mail. Seriously? And all these little plausibility issues add up over time. If you're writing a sci-fi book and you're going to expect me to suspend my disbelief for big world-building things, you gotta make sure all the other stuff is believable. But little issues like this kept popping up, and ultimately I just couldn't suspend my disbelief any more. It left me feeling very disconnected from the story and from Ahmad.

Also, it was confusing. (And I say this as an adult reader who consumes both 1) a LOT of kid lit, and 2) a lot of weird sci-fi. I can handle twisty story lines, alternate histories, skewed timelines, and unreliable narrators.) But in this case, I had a really hard time following the action. The author has created a really cool world, a mash-up of high tech gadgetry set in an old world souk, complete with flying cars. But unfortunately there wasn't enough time spent on the world-building details. I suspect this was purposeful, designed to keep kid readers engaged and keep the action moving. Except in my opinion it didn't work. There wasn't enough detail to hang onto. Here's an example: At one moment, the kids are in the souk, shopping, then a flash flood sorta thing happens, which isn't really well explained, and then they're swimming. They swim to a pier, deploy their boat, and then moments later they're back on dry land, with the city apparently none the worse for wear. I mean, what? Where did the water go? Are we supposed to believe that all these shops were underwater for a little bit but now they're perfectly fine again? I just needed more time spent explaining the mechanics of what's going on so I could follow. Characters appear out of nowhere, and then they disappear. World shaking events happen and then a moment later everything's alright. It felt very head-spinning. And I get that this is because it's all happening in a computer game so you could plausibly explain it all away... except the author never bothered to do that. She never has any of the characters even question what's going on.

And finally, the biggest problem. The characters had no agency. They're just being given these challenges, defeating them, then hanging around until the game designer reveals the next one. At no point did either of the two primary characters really try to defeat the game in other way than just playing along. The most frustrating thing is that we're told the name of the world is Paheli, which translates to Riddle. Cool, I thought. I love books where characters have to figure out riddles. Except there were no riddles. What a lost opportunity. Even with the big twist at the end, I felt really manipulated as a reader. Oh, great, now the one trustworthy character is revealed to be a big baddy and the two regular bad guys who've been tormenting our heros all along pivot and become sad-sack underlings who really were well-intentioned/manipulated and we, the readers, are supposed to forgive them. It just felt so manipulative and tired.

So, overall, lots of unrealized potential. It was disappointing. I really wanted to love it.

Finally, can we talk for a moment about how publishers nowadays seem to be hiding the fact that books are part of a series. What the heck! Why? This is book two in the series. Want to know how I found out? I saw it on the book's GoodReads listing, AFTER I'd finished the book. Nowhere on the book itself does it indicate that this is the second in a series. Maybe I would have understood the world a little better if I knew it was a sequel. (Though it seems clear that it's meant to work as a stand-alone, too.) Why do publishers not make this clear up front? What purpose could possibly be served by keeping it a secret? I was captivated by the cover, but if I'd known it was a sequel, I would have sought out the first one... ya know... first. As it stands now, though, I'm not motivated to read anything else by this author because this one was so lackluster.

One final note, now that I've read other reviewers comments, apparently Ahmad is supposed to be either ADHD or autistic. I saw no indication of that in the text itself. Maybe that information was available in book one, but the character of Ahmad did not read as either of those things to me.
Profile Image for Laura.
477 reviews17 followers
August 26, 2019
I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Mizra is heading back to the City of Paheli for a new game, and in an updated city.

Ahmed Mizra doesn't mean to get in trouble. It just happens. This time, it really wasn't his fault that a classmate--the super smart, goody-two-shoes Winnie--hand-delivered a package to him when he was supposed to be in lunch detention. But he's about to find himself--along with Winnie--on the adventure of a lifetime when the package turns out to be a video-game and supposedly from his older sister, Farah. Ahmed is stunned to learn that this video-game is set in Paheli--a city that he thought he made up and has been sketching since he was a small child. Ahmed has very few memories of his first experience with Paheli, but he most definitely won't forget this time.

The MasterMind will make sure of that.

An intriguing follow-up to "The Gauntlet", "The Battle" sees a return to the enchanted city of Paheli and it's twisted games with a more modern look. This time, instead of three friends going through the trials, it is Ahmed and Winnie who forge a friendship through the trials, learning to trust one another as they solve puzzles, fly rickshaws, and team up with some interesting characters--some of whom are very familiar to the readers.
Profile Image for Tobias Halpern.
19 reviews
November 14, 2019
The battle was a great sci-fi novel that goes beyond the bounds of reality, spinning a web of tricks and mysteries in the form of a virtual reality game with a mind of its own. When someone Ahmad barely knows gives him a game for his Nintendo switch, he can't help but try it out. The person who gave it to him, Winnie, insists on trying it with him. But when it boots up, it is not all that it seems. The game is called paheli, the made-up city that Ahmad has been drawing! but things get worse, the world freezes, a mysterious figure appears, and Ahmad and Winnie are pulled into a harrowing game, where their lives, souls, and the world as they know it hangs in the balance. This book is exciting, filled with action, and chock full of plot twists. It is 293 pages long.
101 reviews4 followers
September 22, 2019
The Battle is a continuation of Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet series that those who have been waiting for a new entry will surely enjoy. Highly recommend for fans of adventure books and films like Jumanji and Zathura.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC.
Profile Image for Shireen Hakim.
Author 4 books26 followers
July 31, 2019
Similar to the first but not as good.
Thank you for the ARC.
Profile Image for Harker.
503 reviews51 followers
August 27, 2019
Content Warnings: Scenes of peril, including police figures shooting fireballs at children (the main characters)

Rep: Bangladeshi-American MC with ADHD, Black female SC

Farah Mirza faced the Architect in The Gauntlet. Now, it is Ahmad Mirza’s turn in this futuristic take on the in-universe game.

The Battle unites Ahmad with Winnie as the pair are swept into a high tech, glittering city where familiar faces and new puzzles will be thrown at them in order to entrap them and gain justice for the Architect.

What an adventure! For fans of adventure books and films like Jumanji and Zathura, The Battle is a continuation of Karuna Riazi’s The Gauntlet series that those who have been waiting for a new entry will surely enjoy.

What I Enjoyed

The world building was in-depth, from the hints of old Paheli to the futuristic elements that were made to attract new players to the Game. Middle Eastern elements enfuse the city from Madame Nasirah’s tea shop (a familiar feature to returning readers) to architectural touches in the buildings, clothing, and vehicles. The futuristic elements that I liked the most were one of the lanterns that was likened to a lightning bug and a light up cobblestone “yellow brick road”.

The food served to Ahmad and Winnie made my mouth water. From the spinach pies to the tea pot that poured what was most comforting to the individual drinker, there was so many things to delight in.

Winnie’s enthusiasm for the world of Paheli (driving the futuristic version of a rickshaw) and her quick thinking (being suspicious of twitchy characters, thinking through puzzles) made her likeable even against the frustration I had for her.

What I Didn't Enjoy

The book felt like it took off rather suddenly, allowing no time for the reader to bond with Winnie, the new side character who is going on this journey with Ahmad. She’s posed at this person who is meant to be a new friend, possibly even a good friend, but I didn’t feel any kind of connection to her or any kind of reason as to why, as a reader, I needed to care for or about her.

The jacket copy doesn’t quite mesh with how things play out with regards to Ahmad trying to make Winnie his friend using The Battle as a game and it was confusing because I thought maybe my arc was missing a chapter or something, but perhaps it was just poorly worded? I’m not sure, but it does make things a bit awkward when you read the copy and expect one thing and start reading it and get something else.

The trials didn’t feel as significant as in The Gauntlet. The second one especially felt like it was over in the blink of an eye. Pertaining to that (the second task, a labyrinth): there were details, such as moments where one person had a crucial puzzle piece, that got very muddled which added to the confusion. It was like the writing got bumbled or something.

There was also some moments in the action during the finale that made no sense, like everyone was scrambling so fast to get things done that the writing wasn’t concerned with making sense (point a –> point b –> point c, etc.). It was incredibly frustrating because I would reread these sections over and over again, thinking I’d misunderstood, but I’m almost positive these were just threads that weren’t taken care of.

As I mentioned in the previous section section, I liked Winnie’s enthusiasm and quick thinking, but I also don’t think she was as well developed as she could have been. She was only so-so, from the somewhat superficial relationship she had with Ahmad to the journey she went on through the book that ought to have given the reader a deeper understanding and connection with her.

To Sum It Up

Karuna Riazi has amazing ideas and weaves them into interesting stories, from The Gauntlet and now into Ahmad and Winnie’s tale in The Battle. There were some issues that I had that there frustrating, including scenes that didn’t make sense and lack of character development. Overall, I think the bones of a good adventure are here and could well be enjoyed by readers who picked up the story of Farah Mirza and are now curious about what her brother, Ahmad, can do when facing Paheli.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
Profile Image for zaheerah.
439 reviews109 followers
June 26, 2019
*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

Years after The Gauntlet, the Architect returns with a new partner, MasterMind, to take revenge on the Mirza family. Now twelve-years-old, Ahmad Mirza must face their latest creation, The Battle. Ahmad is forced back by the Architect to a brand new Paheli. A slicker and more modern update raises the stakes, and with New York frozen in time, Ahmad must beat the game again before it beats him.

Like the first book, the story is structured around three challenges that Ahmad and Winnie must complete to defeat MasterMind’s game. Riazi again gives readers not much time as our characters must rush all over the city of Paheli. Ahmad remembers little from his past adventure, so he’s just as confused as Winnie is. What definitely carries on the from the debut is the fast-paced mix of monsters and high-stakes battles for survival. I loved the descriptions of the new Paheli, it’s an entirely new landscape with some familiarity with Ahmad and returning readers. The world-building of the novel and game design shines through. The old Paheli isn’t there anymore, but parts of it still manage to linger with a more significant emphasis on the steampunk design this time around. I enjoyed the level of detail given to the setting. I’m obviously not the intended audience, but this book is good fun, full of action and adventure.

A similar issue I had with The Gauntlet was the disparity in characterisation between the lead, now Ahmad, and its secondary characters. The Battle introduces Ahmad’s classmate, Winnie, as his companion into Paheli. Throughout the novel, you really get a feel for Ahmad and watch him grown as a person, but Winnie is not as fully developed. She’s a smart and confident girl but doesn’t really impact the story as much you’d expect and felt like a paper character meant to just tag along with Ahmad.

Overall, I have no doubt that younger readers will enjoy the new Paheli landscape with high-rise landscapes, flying cars and familiar faces. A surprising reveal at the end makes me wonder where the future of Paheli could lead. I personally didn’t enjoy The Battle that much which is quite disappointing, especially when I adored the first one. I absolutely loved The Gauntlet, but its sequel doesn’t match up with the magic of its predecessor. It is a solid and fascinating return but to those who loved the world created before may be disappointed by its execution.
300 reviews
August 14, 2019
Ahmad is used to two things: being on his own and getting into trouble. But when Ahmad's classmate Winnie hands him a package from his sister Farah, everything is about to change.

The Battle, by Karuna Riazi, is an exciting follow-up to The Gauntlet and picks up years after the Mirzas moved to NYC. Farah is away at college, and Ahmad is muddling through life as a twelve-year-old. He loves to draw and spends a lot of class time doodling pictures of a strange city called Paheli that he remembers dreaming about as a kid.

Winnie is intrigued by the package and follows Ahmad home. But when they insert the video game cartridge into the console, strange things begin to happen. Winnie notices that the avatars look just like the two of them. They're still examining the girl avatar with Winnie's curly hair when the city freezes around them. A thick blackness rises up and covers everything around them, and then the city is replaced by a futuristic version of the city with tall, floating skyscrapers and flying rickshaws. Soon, Ahmad and Winnie come to understand that they've been transported into the game. If they want to get home again, they'll need to play the game and win.

This action-packed adventure combining video games with a South Asian–inspired fantasy world is ultimately about the power of friendship. As the game goes on, the stakes get higher and higher, and the lines between friends and foes blur. I loved seeing the developing relationship between Ahmad and Winnie and seeing Ahmad grow in self-confidence as a result of that. 

While a fun ride, I found this novel weaker than the first. It is repetitive at times, and the world building is not as clear as it was in The Gauntlet. I often felt confused about the challenge they were facing and rules of the world around them. While this confusion was at times meant to be a part of the plot, it wasn't the most pleasant reading experience.

Although readers will recognize elements of Paheli and know information about the Mirzas from The Gauntlet, The Battle is not a strict sequel and can be read as a stand-alone.

I can recommend this middle grade novel for 8–12 year old kids who enjoy stories about video games or adventure stories in general.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nicole (Reading Books With Coffee).
1,399 reviews34 followers
October 7, 2019
I was really excited about The Battle after I read The Gauntlet a couple of years ago.  The Battle was just okay for me, and I didn't like it as much as I thought I would.

This book focuses on Ahmad, Farah's brother.  I don't know why but I just wasn't as interested in his story as I was in Farah's.  It did have a video game sort of feel to it, which seems right up Ahmad's alley.  I'm not really a video game person, so I wonder if that's part of it.  

The story was interesting, and I'm glad we got to see Ahmad years after the events of The Gauntlet.  The game has definitely changed, which we see throughout the book.  It's less Jumanji and more Ready Player One.  At least, from what I know about Ready Player One.  I still haven't read it, so I can't say for sure.  But this book does have more of a video game feel than a board game feel to it.

I was intrigued that the game managed to rebuild itself into a more modern version of the one we saw in The Gauntlet.  It was harder to picture, and I felt like we didn't the descriptions we saw in the first book.  It was a lot harder to picture in this book, and I felt like the rules weren't as clear in this book as they were in the first one.  

Ahmad's drawings sounded pretty cool- I found myself wondering if he was drawing the places in the Gauntlet, and if he didn't remember what had happened there.  This version seemed somewhat familiar to him, but since it was really different, I wonder if he knew it was familiar but couldn't place it.  That's what made me wonder if he had remembered what happened years earlier and if maybe the drawings were a way to figure out or remember what had happened.  I could be completely off with this, of course, but I did think about that quite a bit at the beginning.  

My Rating: 2 stars.  The Battle was just okay for me.  It was nice to see what happened to Ahmad and Farah after the Gauntlet was destroyed but I just wasn't as interested in this story as I wanted to be.
Profile Image for shri (sunandchai).
90 reviews87 followers
August 22, 2019
Full review on my blog!

I want to thank Lili Feinberg @ Simon and Schuster for sending this ARC my way in exchange for an honest review!

I’m not much of a middle grade genre reader– I’m generally nowhere near the intended audience, so I keep my distance. However, when I saw that this was by a desi author (a plus) and pitched as a Jumanji/Zathura style plot (also a plus in my book), I was way too curious not to give it a go.

And The Battle did not disappoint. A fun and thrilling ride from beginning to end, The Battle features an engaging and fast paced story with the right amount of suspenseful undercurrent that had me turning the page as quickly as possible. It also tackled a healthy amount of important topics including the role of adults and identity, the depth of which I found to be a pleasant and welcome surprise in an MG novel.
Profile Image for Yuna.
470 reviews1 follower
September 25, 2019
3.5ish * but I'll bump to 4 because I enjoyed it a lot. I guess I'm an outlier judging from some of the other reviews I've read in that I liked The Battle more than The Gauntlet. I liked that Paheli and the challenges went more video game style than tabletop.

Pacing is very quick, which is mostly fine except it made Winnie feel less fleshed out as a character than Ahmad. We only see Winnie through Ahmad's eyes, and since he hardly knows her we don't really get a feel for her/her background aside from what Ahmad has seen/presumed of her at school. Whereas we get a lot better feel for Ahmad and his insecurities (which is understandable since it's told from his POV).
The rapid pacing also made it feel like I only got a one-dimensional feel fro the antagonists and their motives. There was an emotional beat toward the end, but it didn't get the moment it needed to land for me. Also wish the Big Bad had been foreshadowed more throughout.
185 reviews43 followers
February 13, 2022
I'm not sure if to rate this 3.5 or 4. I really enjoyed the ending with the jinn, Architect, and MasterMind, but not so much the beginning. For me, it seemed like it was too rushed into the game/story. When I read the summary on this site, it said more about the beginning and I feel like the story doesn't follow it. It just seems like it could have been done not so quickly as it was. And the coming together of Winnie and Ahmad in the beginning too. A little too quick in my opinion. I think maybe this series would have been okay without the second book, it as I got deeper into the story, I began to enjoy it some.
Profile Image for Emily Masters.
357 reviews10 followers
October 6, 2019
I really enjoyed this book- think middle grade ready player one. There were a couple things that I think could have been explained a bit further, but overall a fun and exciting read.

EDIT: it has come to my attention that this is a sequel. my assumption is that the things i didn't quite understand were references to the first book. if that's the case, this is a great sequel cause you can more or less pick up the entire story even without the author having to walk you through every little thing!
Profile Image for Annie.
657 reviews17 followers
November 21, 2021
A great middle grade adventure where the first book you’re sucked into a board game that appears to look like Arabian desert this time it’s a video game with traditional markets and an architect, game keeper and avatars you can’t trust. Always something happening as you turn the page, I liked Winnie and Ahmad - diverse kids who develop an unlikely friendship as they navigate through the game as a team. It was a lot of fun to read and I highly recommend this to young readers looking for their next adventure or for a writer of middle grade this is truly inspirational.
Profile Image for Lucas.
478 reviews12 followers
September 19, 2022
Who wouldn't want to travel into their dream city? Maybe someone who was then forced to play a game where losing seemed inevitable?

Ahmad and Winnie take Paheli by storm and race their way through challenges (some real and some set as distractions) with the goal of getting out of the game and back to New York.

They aren't to trust anyone in the game, but can they actually make it through all the challenges without trusting at least one, or more?

A book about games, challenges, and friendships. This book has it all.
Profile Image for Lisa.
57 reviews1 follower
September 15, 2019


I really enjoyed this follow up to The Gauntlet. BUT they never wrapped up how Ahmad got the game and I really wanted some sort of like "one month later" moment where he gets to talk to his sister and tell her what happened and have him finally really remember that he'd been there before. I liked that he didn't remember that he had been in the game but there was never a real moment of discovery where you really feel like he totally remembers what happened.
Profile Image for Ellen.
1,065 reviews6 followers
August 5, 2021
I loved the first book in this duology so I am so disappointed in how this one turned out. The connection to Bangladeshi culture was not as strong. The gaps in the plot were huge (I waited until the last pages to see if they would be addressed, but they weren't). The villians weren't as well-defined. The plot itself was so similar to the original that it seemed like a cop out on the author's part. I should have just stopped with the first one and left it there.
Profile Image for Laura (bbliophile).
791 reviews155 followers
August 1, 2019
I really, really hate saying this because I adored the first book and wanted to love this one so badly but... I really didn't like it. I'll write a full review soon but let's just say I'm very disappointed.
Profile Image for Jess.
291 reviews35 followers
January 26, 2020
This was just ok for me. There is too much deus ex machina for my liking. It’s also plot-driven/action, which I tend to enjoy far less than character-driven/emotional - especially when the plot is a bit sloppy. The kids enjoyed it, though. In the end it’s intended for them, not me.
715 reviews4 followers
March 14, 2021
Quick fun read, but didn't realize it was the second in a duology. Nothing says I needed to read the first novel, but I felt like a bit of context was missing initially with the story...

Also, there's nothing on the back or cover indicating this is book 2.
Profile Image for Christie.
757 reviews3 followers
June 22, 2022
This is the sequel to The Gauntlet.  It is a good story about Ahmed and his friend Winnie, who enter the game that his sister entered years ago(he followed along). I didn't think the puzzles were as good as in the first book but it is still a must read sequel. 
Profile Image for Yapha.
2,621 reviews72 followers
June 22, 2019
Not as good as the first one, unfortunately. I was less drawn into the challenges and the world. For fans of The Gauntlet, grades 4 & up.

eARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss
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