Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet

Spring 2017 Fiction
Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Karuna Riazi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781481486965
Hardcover Price: $16.99

It's Farah Mirza's twelfth birthday, but she's not feeling very festive. The students at her new school don't feel like friends yet, and she fears they are only there to gape at her as the 'exotic' girl wearing hijab. She feels distant from her best friends from the old school, Essie and Alex, whom she hasn't seen in months. To top it off, her little brother Ahmad insists upon horning his way into everything, even her birthday presents. When Aunt Zohra tells Farah, Essie, and Alex, that she's left a special present for Farah in an upstairs bedroom, the three friends try to sneak away and check out the present without Ahmad knowing. Unfortunately, he's too sneaky for them. When they open the present, a beautiful carved wooden game, they find the game pieces transform to look just like them. Before they can stop him, Ahmad jumps onto the game board with his own avatar—and disappears. The only way to rescue him is to enter the game themselves as a team. Once inside, they find an intricate city, designed by a mysterious Architect, which they must dismantle in order to win the game. They must try to beat the Architect at his own game, or else become prisoners of the magical city—and they soon discover that the Architect cheats.

Karuna Riazi's debut novel pays homage to Jim Henson's Labyrinth, but Riazi builds her own uniquely imaginative game world in this fantasy adventure. Her crafting of the game's intricacies—its crowded souk, twisted, carnival-like palace of dreams, and games within game—is the strongest aspect of the novel. The writing and plot do not always move smoothly, and Farah's two friends are flatter characters than they might be. Young fantasy enthusiasts are unlikely to mind these problems. Riazi crafts an intriguing, dangerous fantasy world, and offers a thoughtfully written arch-villain. The Gauntlet is worth giving to children interested in fantasy adventure; hopefully, Riazi will continue to publish further in this genre.

Naomi Lesley   ©2017 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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