The Battle (The Gauntlet #2) by Karuna Riazi

The Battle, by Karuna Riazi (middle grade, Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster, August, 2019) has just as much exciting fun as its predecessor, The Gauntlet!

It's four years after Ahmad Mirza, his big sister Farah and two of her friends were sucked into a game that came to life, and Farah led the group to defeat the game's architect (as told in The Gauntlet).  Four years in which Ahmed has gotten into trouble, made no friends, and obsessively drawn the game's city setting, Paheli.  And now Ahmed is sitting in the principle's office, in trouble for sneaking the package his sister mailed to him at school from the school office.  Then Winnie, a "good kid," shows up to explain she was the one who snuck the package out.  And when Ahmed sets off home that day, she follows him.

He doesn't understand why, but can't help but hope that Winnie might be a friend....And so the two of them look at the high-tech video game that was in the package--The Battle-- and they begin to fiddle with the game.  Around them everyone freezes.  The game falls, and begins to ooze blackness, and the blackness swallow them and takes them back to the city of Ahmed's dreams, Paheli.

The Architect of The Gauntlet was a spoiled, entitled monster of a boy, and now he's been joined by a manipulative, entitled girl who styles herself the MasterMind, and she'd coding the Paheli into a techno-jazzed up version of its original self.  It's all a disorienting, crazy mess to Ahmed and Winnie, and the only way out is to beat the game by overcoming the challenges the MasterMind and the Architect have dreamed up for them.

It's a wild and crazy world they are in, full of marvelous, malevolent, magnificent settings, creatures, puzzles, and traps.  Ahmed and Winnie make a good team, and are able to get through their three challenges and expect to be sent home again....and just when the reader is wondering it was all too easy, the kids realize those challenges weren't the actual danger.  The game is more than the two manipulators who are its current tinkerers....there is ancient magic at its heart. (Basically, in good gaming style, there's a Big Boss who appears after the earlier challenges).

Paheli sure is a magnificent setting, and all its wonders and dangers are delightful vivid.  So vivid, and so full of many dangers, in fact, that the characters of Ahmed and Winnie don't really get a chance to develop much.  Their strengths play off each other to some extent, and they make progress towards trusting each other and being friends, but essentially they are pawns in a game, and they never quite made it to fully three-dimensional characters in my mind (especially Winnie).  (I really wanted to learn more about the MasterMind, too....).  And so I was a little disappointed.

Though this is an indirect sequel to The Gauntlet, it's not really necessary to have read that book first.  Ahmed doesn't truly remember having been in Paheli before, though it haunts his dreams, and though characters from The Gauntlet show up, I think they make sense on their own terms in this story.

For readers who delight in sparkly action, this won't be an issue, though, and many young gamers will find the kids' adventures (highjacking flying cars, fighting off zombie monkeys, escaping deadly traps, and more) entertaining reading!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like an exciting book that kids will really like. Thanks for the review.


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