Sunday, October 13, 2019

MMGM: The Battle (The Gauntlet #2) by Karuna Riazi

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

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 


  1. I had not heard of this series but your intriguing review will have me searching for a copy of either book. I might even go with The Battle first. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  2. My older son would have adored this when he was younger. Come to think of it, he'd probably still enjoy it (he's 32 and a coder!).

  3. Looking at these comments, I would say you have been spammed. This book isn't my cup of tea, but I hae some young friends who might like it. Thanks for your review.

  4. I haven't heard of this book or series, but I love the Ready Player One vibe your description and the cover give off.


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