Review: The Challenger – Taran Matharu

Review: The Challenger – Taran MatharuThe Challenger
by Taran Matharu
Series: Contender #2
Also in this series: The Chosen, The Champion
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: August 11, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Source: NetGalley

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The stakes are higher than ever in The Challenger, the second book in the Contender YA trilogy by the New York Times bestselling author of the Summoner series, Taran Matharu.
The first battle is over, but the Game is just beginning...

Cade Carter and his friends have survived the qualifying round of the mysterious overlords' twisted games, decimated by the loss of so many of their comrades during the fight. But they have no time to mourn, for the next round of trials is about to begin.

When the group discovers that their next foe will be even more ferocious than the last, Cade leads them on a quest out into their strange new world to find anything that might give them an edge. But what they find in the wilds could prove to be even more dangerous than the impending battle...

The stakes are higher than ever in this thrilling sequel to The Chosen.

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4 stars icon fantasy icon m/f young adult

Content warnings: View Spoiler »

This series is straight-forward history-geek action adventure, and I am all here for it. This is the second book in a series, and I wouldn’t recommend reading it before the first.

Still grieving the deaths of his friends in the last battle, Cade and the other teens on the planet Acies have been given even worse news. Cade’s been chosen to battle one-on-one with another world’s contender, and losing will mean that the Earth will be destroyed. But what can one half-starved and injured teenager hope to do against an alien race armed with tentacles and claws? Cade decides their only hope is to find some sort of relic for himself, so he, Quintus, Scott, Grace and Amber leave the keep to explore, leaving behind Yoshi and the twins Bea and Trix. But there’s more danger outside the keep than just dinosaurs, and they soon find themselves taken captive. Will Cade and the others survive, escape and make it back to the keep in time…. only to lose their chance at returning home to Earth forever?

“I’m sorry,” Cade said. “It all happened so fast. I didn’t ask to be the one who makes decisions. Trust me.”
Amber’s look softened. “It’s done now,” she said. “Just . . . try to keep us in mind next time.”
But he had. Every choice he made weighed heavy on his soul. But he didn’t begrudge their frustration. He knew what it felt like to have his fate decided by others. Perhaps more than most.”

Even before being chosen as the contender, Cade’s been the de factor leader of the group. For the most part, I think Cade acts exactly like a real teen would in his circumstances – he gets angry and makes stupid mistakes sometimes, but he’s also very aware of the consequences of his actions. He’s weighed down by guilt and the knowledge that the fate of not just his friends but the whole world basically rests on him. The smaller group means more time spent on the dynamics between the five of them. There’s especially a lot of time on Cade’s relationship with Quintus and also his budding romance with Amber. It’s a sweet but very tame romance – nothing more than a kiss – but it did add a little more dimension to their characters. There’s new characters as well, and I especially loved Tsuru and her story.

There’s less exploration in this book than the first, but that doesn’t mean less action. The story is non-stop from the moment they decide to leave the keep until the end of the book. Given the cover, I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that the teens end up being trained as gladiators. I found the bits of actual history (how the ludus works, the weapons, the other characters’ backstories) intriguing and well-integrated into Cade’s story.

“You’re allowed to feel sorry for yourself. You’re allowed to be scared. But I won’t let you take their deaths on your shoulders.”
Her finger jabbed out at the dark jungle.
“You think we’d have lasted this long out there?”
Cade shrugged, and wiped his face a second time.
“I’m alive right now because of what you did. Me and the others. Not to mention countless souls back on Earth. Leaders make hard choices. Sometimes you don’t get to save everyone.”

There are several unanswered questions from the last book – who were those people who had captured the girls and Cade? what happened to Finch? – that are explored more in depth here, though more are also raised. Why does Abaddon seem to favor taking teenagers? What does he have planned next? The book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m absolutely desperate for the next one.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one!

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