Farah sometimes hates having to spend all her time with her little brother, Ahmad. She knows that his ADD makes it difficult for him sometimes and that she should be nice. But on her birthday? When her two best friends from her old town have come to the new house to spend time with her? Thinking she has finally shaken him off, Farah, Essie, and Alex slip upstairs to open Farah’s present from her Aunt Zohra. But Ahmad has gotten there first, tearing off the paper and discovering what seems to be a game called the Gauntlet of Blood and Sand. Farah has a bad feeling about it. It seems to have a heartbeat. And when they open it up, the game grows before their eyes into a miniature maze-like tower, almost like a whole city. Before they can stop him, An excited Ahmad leaps into the game and vanishes. It turns out The Gauntlet was not meant to be Farah’s birthday present. The Gauntlet is the harrowing, sentient game that stole Aunt Zohra’s best friend decades ago–a game that Aunt Zohra has kept ever since to keep other children from becoming ensnared. But now it is too late, and Ahmad’s only hope is for Farah, Essie, and Alex to enter the game world as well, to win each of the Architect’s challenges, and to make it out alive.
A neat read, this book is a sort of Middle Eastern Jumanji. The game world is richly imagined, and the challenges the children face remind me of The Mysterious Benedict Society. Young readers who enjoy fantasy that is rooted in the real world and/or books with riddles and puzzles should check it out.