A young hijabi finds herself, her brother, and her friends trapped in a very dangerous game.
Upper East Side Bangladeshi-American Farah’s having a hard time clicking with her old friends from Queens when they come to her 12th birthday party. But when her trying-but-adorable little brother—he has ADHD—vanishes into a mysterious board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand, white Essie and brown-skinned Alex don't hesitate to join Farah in jumping in to rescue him. Once in the game, they are given three challenges—and failure to win all three will trap them there. Farah’s desperation to find Ahmad heightens these deadly stakes. In her debut, Riazi gives readers a Muslim protagonist who resists genre clichés: she’s resolute rather than feisty, smart but aware of her weaknesses. Secondary characterization is not so strong; Essie and Alex seem more types than people. The superb worldbuilding offers an ever shifting topography, rather like an Escher vision of the East. Riazi’s lush descriptions reject exoticization, Farah's cultural familiarity positioning readers within her perspective: a “sweet sunset pink mosque, beautifully domed and proudly placed,” reminds her of buildings she’s seen in Bangladesh and India, “sharing a linked history of wide arches and rounded roofs.” Riazi combines such tropes as a magic map with the winningly original lizard Resistance corps, offering just the right mix of familiarity and newness.
A solid middle-grade fantasy and an auspicious debut. (Fantasy. 8-12)