The Battle

S & S/Salaam Reads. Aug. 2019. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534428720.
Gr 3-6–The Bengali-American Mirza family returns in another fast-paced and danger-filled trip to Paheli, the fantasy game world from Riazi’s The Gauntlet. This title features Ahmad, now 12 but still experiencing social problems due to his presumed ADHD, who enters the magical game world via a Nintendo Switch, along with his new friend Winnie. This time, the very existence of New York City hangs in the balance. Things have changed inside Paheli; most notably, the world shifts and changes around them faster than ever, and there is ambiguity about the goal of the game and who the pair’s true adversaries are. Riazi’s choice not to establish solid rules for her fantasy world impedes the reader’s ability to anticipate events or attempt solving the problems ahead of her characters, making this feel like simply being along for a ride, zooming from one danger to another with little contemplation or strategy. Ahmad and Winnie develop very little other than strengthening their friendship throughout the narrative. Riazi regularly alludes to events and characters from the prequel. The most enticing elements of this novel are its South Asian and Middle Eastern cultural touchpoints: delicious foods, the sandy souk, monkeys, banyan trees, and the djinn behind it all.
VERDICT Fantasy featuring people of color is sorely needed, and while this adventurous sequel could be read on its own, it’s recommended to buy both novels for kids who love action-packed science fiction

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