Goodreads: The Battle
Series: The Gauntlet #2
Source: ARC from BookCon
Publication Date: Aug. 27, 2019
Ahmed has never quite fit in at school. He’s known mostly for always getting into trouble. So he’s shocked when star student Winnie hands him a package in the hall and decides she wants to be his friend. The package contains a video game, but neither Ahmed nor Winnie expected it to become real. Now they’re trapped in the game while NYC is frozen–and the only way out is to win. But the MastermInd never plays fair.
I was unaware that this book was a sequel to The Gaunlet; perhaps knowing would have made the experience less confusing. As it was, I felt that the story was choppy, that I kept waiting for a big reveal about Ahmed’s past that came far too late to be exciting, and that I was reading a book that ultimately made no sense. But I don’t think much of this had anything to do with the book being a sequel. I think the real problem is that the elements of the book are disconnected and that the premise–that of children entering a video game to save the world– was meant to make the story exciting enough that readers would overlook the shoddy construction.
Unfortunately for The Battle, however, the video game plot has been done before and far better–notably in Ready Player One, which the cover references. Comparing a book to a similar book that has a more developed story line, more developed characters, and a more developed world, seems to be setting up the book for failure from the start. (It’s also, frankly, a little confusing since The Battle is MG and its target audience presumably hasn’t read the adult Ready Player One, but I digress.) Ready Player One has a specific end goal with related challenges leading up to it, and some nuanced glimpses of the characters’ personal lives as they find themselves changing as they play the game. In contrast, The Battle has an end goal–win–but no specific instructions on how to do this, aside from completing three challenges that appear at random with no explicit directions and no clear way they relate to or build upon each other. The result is that Ahmed and Winne spend most of their time wandering around hoping something will happen. When it does, their victories seem easy and hollow as they often seem to be guessing at how to play–and conveniently getting it right.
Ahmed and Winnie also never really feel like three-dimensional characters. Readers are told at the start that Ahmed is known as a troublemaker at school and has no friends. Winnie is the star student. Their friendship begins randomly when Winnie hands him a package–why is never explained–and decides to be his friend–why is never explained. The rest of the book does little to develop them as people or friends. The book occasionally tells readers that Ahmed is unused to having friends, but it does not feel genuine. A book should not need to tell readers about a character in lieu of showing the character actually being a certain way. As a result, I never connected with the characters and never really cared if they won the game or not.
The worldbuilding is also lackluster, though it is obviously meant to be cool. Ahmed and Winnie enter a futuristic city built on the foundations of an older, beautiful city. Flying carpets used to be sold. Now there are flying rickshaws and more. But I never got a real feel for the geography, the people, or the city. Ahmed waxes on and on about its familiarity–something finally explained maybe two-thirds of the way through the book (at which point I no longer cared; the “mystery” was just annoying)–but it would have been nice if it could have felt familiar to me. As it was, it felt like randomly connected segments that Ahmed and Winnie could wander through just for variety. A city! A sand city! A jungle! None of it seems to go together.
The ending of the book is, disappointingly, perhaps the weakest part of the story. Instead of wrapping up the plot, it introduces new complications and new villains–some of whose motivations are never explained. This is perhaps the most confusing part of the book, with allies becoming enemies and enemies becoming allies, none of it making much sense. Ahmed continues to feel mysterious feelings and memories that ought to be relevant, but manage not to be. It’s a complete jumble and I’m still not sure what I was supposed to make of it.
I was excited to read The Battle and enter an immersive video game adventure. Instead, I was confronted with a poorly-constructed plot, under-developed characters, and a lackluster world. The Battle, in the end, could never live up to its exciting summary.