by Karuna Riazi
A trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.
I grew up in the generation of Jumanji. Admittedly, I never really got into it. But I loved the idea. So this book, described as a steampunk Middle Eastern twist, it caught my interest. It wasn’t near the top of my list of ARCs I still needed to get through, but when it got closer to the release date, I saw people talking about it everywhere. So I knew I had to change the order for my ARCs and moved it up to my top. And I’m so happy that I did.
This book does what Harry Potter did with friendship without anything silly like romance getting in the way (after all, they’re only 12. I’d probably have put it down if it had). And like Harry Potter, it was utter magic. Though Farah is the focus, you see each characters strength that defies normal stereotypes and see them using it. Honestly, I loved their friendship and loved the dynamic and loved them all equally. It also made family the most important thing, which isn’t something you see as often in books anymore. And it did it well.
All of this was isn’t new concepts for books, but it did it in a way that kept it fresh and new in its own way.
The writing was great, the plot was magic. I spent a lot of nights falling asleep with this book (yes, again). I was so determined to read one more page, to find out one more thing that I often fell asleep in the middle of a blink for a few moments before waking up and trying again. I admit, I spent mornings having to go back a bit and rereading because of this. But I didn’t mind because you can so easily miss a small detail that’s so important if you don’t read carefully.
My only issue was there were a few spots that either weren’t completely clear or seemed rushed closer to the end of the book. There was a spot that Farah meets a woman that traded her brother’s voice saying her name for food. But it wasn’t overly clear or even needed. It only lasted a paragraph and she somehow got back to her friends, which wasn’t fully clear how. A lot of details weren’t fully clear by the end, but it happened to be smaller things, so it didn’t make me less in love with this book. It just left me a little confused – admittedly, I’m a sucker for details so it was a bit of a disappointment after how great this book was up to that point. I’m hoping it was fixed in the final copies of this book. But at the same, I think for a middle grade book, I think it is something that can get a pass.
I do recommend this book despite that. I think the story itself is original and is really wonderful. It’s a beautifully written book that leaves you able to see the things written in the book clear as day. And the diversity in this book is beautiful. It gives you a wonderful taste of culture mixed with the magic.
Rating – 4 stars