The Gauntlet

304p. ebook available. S. & S./Salaam Reads. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481486965.
Gr 3–6—At Farah's 12th birthday party, she mistakenly receives an odd mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand from her aunt. Despite Aunt Zohra's warnings, Farah and her friends Essie and Alex are sucked into the game and must battle the evil Lord Amari and win in order to save themselves and retrieve Farah's seven-year-old brother, Ahmad. The fast-paced game is structured with three challenges and a timed race from location to location, complete with a map and magical timepiece. The challenges are innovative and based on classic games such as mancala and Scrabble. Although the book is accessible to younger middle grade readers, the characters feel rather formulaic and don't develop much over the course of the story. Readers may find Ahmad's spoiled cheekiness grating (as well as the family tradition of always letting him win at games), but fortunately he is absent for the majority of the work. However, Riazi skillfully incorporates elements of Farah's Bangladeshi culture into the landscape of Farah's real-world New York City home and the magical realm of Paheli, where the game takes place.
VERDICT Though die-hard fantasy fans may be a bit underwhelmed with the characterization and world-building, most middle grade readers will appreciate the adventure and embrace a tale with a strong protagonist of color.

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