Title: The Battle
Series: The Gauntlet #2
Author: Karuna Riazi
Genres: Middle Grade Fantasy
The game begins again in this gripping follow-up to The Gauntlet that’s a futuristic middle eastern Zathura meets Ready Player One!
Four years after the events of The Gauntlet, the evil game Architect is back with a new partner-in-crime—The MasterMind—and the pair aim to get revenge on the Mirza clan. Together, they’ve rebuilt Paheli into a slick, mind-bending world with floating skyscrapers, flying rickshaws run by robots, and a digital funicular rail that doesn’t always take you exactly where you want to go.
Twelve-year-old Ahmad Mirza struggles to make friends at his new middle school, but when he’s paired with his classmate Winnie for a project, he is determined to impress her and make his very first friend. At home while they’re hard at work, a gift from big sister Farah—who is away at her first year in college—arrives. It’s a high-tech game called The Battle of Blood and Iron, a cross between a video game and board game, complete with virtual reality goggles. He thinks his sister has solved his friend problem—all kids love games. He convinces Winnie to play, but as soon as they unbox the game, time freezes all over New York City.
With time standing still and people frozen, all of humankind is at stake as Ahmad and Winnie face off with the MasterMind and the Architect, hoping to beat them at their own game before the evil plotters expand Paheli and take over the entire world.
I wasn’t exactly sure whether I wanted to write this review at first. I guess this is where I admit that I absolutely despise writing negative reviews. Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true because I kind of love writing negative reviews. Just, that feeling of letting all of the frustrations you have over a book out and just ranting your heart out? Amazing. I just have a lot of trouble with posting it because I’m incredibly sad that I didn’t like this book, and I kind of don’t want to admit that I didn’t like it. So I’ve been putting writing this off for a very long time. I mean, I even wrote a whole post about why I don’t want to write this review instead of actually writing this review.
The thing is: I’m very disappointed in this book. And me being very disappointed in a book doesn’t happen very often, because I generally know what I like in books so I tend to only pick up books that I’m very likely to love. But this book had so many elements that I should love and I still didn’t, and I wasn’t sure what do to with that.
I think one of the main reasons why I was so disappointed in this book was because of my expectations, because they were high. I read the first book in this series, The Gauntlet, back in 2017 and I loved it so much. I loved the writing, the setting, the characters, the adventure, the food… just, basically everything. When I heard that there was a sequel coming out I was so so excited, and when my friend Lili gave me an ARC of it I couldn’t wait to read it, so when a very hot summer’s day rolled around and there was nothing else to do besides sitting outside and reading, I picked this book up.
I did manage to finish it in a day, but only because there was nothing else to do and I was determined not to DNF it, because I was bored. Very bored. And I feel so bad about saying that because I wanted to love this book so badly, and I follow the author on Twitter and I think she’s great and I really hope she’ll publish so many more books because she’s amazing. This book just wasn’t it for me.
Anyhow, let’s just talk about the reasons why I didn’t like this book. So, much like the first book, The Battle is about kids getting sucked into a game and having to do all these challenges to be able to get out of said game Jumanji-style. But instead of with the first book, this book is centered around a video game instead of a board game.
Now, this concept sounds great, right? There’s so much potential there, and I feel like the first book (from what I remember) lived up to this potential, but this one didn’t. You’d expect that with these kid’s lives (and all of New Yorks lives) on the line there’d be some form of suspense or tension, but there really wasn’t. And the games could’ve been really interesting but they let me down a lot. I mean, there was one challenge where there was a maze and you followed them going through this maze for like 2 pages and then the next chapter starts and they’re out of the maze. Challenge over. Done.
Another thing that annoyed me to no end was the fact that these kids had to find the locations of these challenges or figure out how certain things worked, they had absolutely 0 clues every single time but the kids kept saying “okay, I have a feeling we need to go here” and they were right! Every single time! And if something super convenient like this happens once or twice it’s fine, but it happened throughout the whole freaking book. Just, please…
Okay, I feel like that was enough ranting. Honestly, I feel like this book could’ve been so great and it was definitely getting there, it just needed quite a bit more work. If the challenges had been interesting, if there was some suspense added, if there were clues as to where the kids needed to go and the plot didn’t keep relying on gut feelings… it really could’ve been good. But it wasn’t. So I’m sad.
But I’m still really hoping that this is just a me thing and that everyone else ends up absolutely loving this book. And also, please pick up The Gauntlet! It’s really good! But maybe skip this one…
(Also, I just reread this review for editing purposes and I really spend more time feeling writing about how I feel bad about critiquing the book than I actually spend critiquing the book itself… Guess I need some more practice writing negative reviews, huh.)