by Taran Matharu
Series: Contender #3
Also in this series: The Chosen, The Challenger
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
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:
In Taran Matharu's The Champion, the explosive final book in the Contender trilogy, Cade and his friends wage the ultimate battle for their lives―and the fate of Earth itself―in the Game set by the cruel and mysterious Pantheon…
Cade has managed to survive the duel with the Hydra Alpha―barely. But the Games are far from over.
By order of their cruel and mysterious overlord, Abaddon, Cade and his friends are sent off to war against the Greys, a humanoid race who have far surpassed humans in technology on their home planet. This attempt to move up the leaderboard, however, leads Cade to a game-changing revelation: The Pantheon―the millennia-old alien masterminds behind the Games―have a weakness.
With the right artifacts scavenged from the land of Acies and a heavy dose of courage and luck, Cade has exactly one chance to end their tyranny forever. But if he fails, the lives of his friends―and the survival of Earth itself―will be forfeit.
Content notes: View Spoiler »violence (including death, and gun violence), torture (off-page, but wounds are described), genocide, minor suicidal ideation, trauma, PTSD, ableism (from bad guy) « Hide Spoiler
I picked up the first book in this series on a whim, not sure what to expect, but the history geek action-adventure with a scifi twist hit the exact right note for me. And this final book in the trilogy is no slouch in terms of any of that!
Cade, Amber and Quintus (and the rest of the teens) have had a short reprieve after defeating the Hydras, but Abaddon isn’t done with them yet. But Cade’s darkest moment yet leads to the startling revelation that he could end the Pantheon once and for all – if he’s willing to sacrifice everything.
“You think it’s bad enough being Abaddon’s puppet? It’s worse when we’re yours too.”
From the very first book, I’ve loved the way Cade relies more on his brain than on his fighting skills, not that they’re too shabby after all that time in the gladiatorial training in New Rome. He’s not the passive kid we first met, either, but the true leader of the group. And with the addition of new characters – and a new twist to the competition – one of the main themes explored is leadership. Cade’s tendency to make decisions for the group without consulting them cropped up in the last book, and it’s even more of an issue here. It’s not that he sets out to do that, but Cade always seems to end up in a situation where he needs to act quickly and decisively. It’s a huge weight on him and a wedge between him and the other teens, and seeing what happens when that leadership style goes to extremes causes him to question himself repeatedly. And, keep in mind, even with all of his experiences, Cade’s still just a kid – a gladatorially-trained but still hesitant to kill, severely traumatized kid.
As before (and depicted on the cover) this book revolves mostly around Cade and his relationships with Quintus and Amber. Quintus is unfailingly loyal, even when Cade makes some questionable-looking decisions, and I’m glad he had that kind of friend. Amber, on the other hand, is still romantically involved with him (though, again, not much more than kissing and holding hands) but also willing to be critical of him when she thinks he’s being a jerk. They’re opposites that balance Cade nicely.
“Well, you find yourself in quite a predicament,” Abaddon said, gesturing behind him. “Slavers, dinosaurs, and mummies, oh my!”
The book is jam-packed with action from almost the first page, whether it’s hunting dinosaurs for food (yum?) or preparing an assault on a seemingly impregnable fortress. With that being said, it almost feels like two books, as there are two distinct “epic battles,” one that comes about halfway through the book and the other at the actual end. The pacing steadily builds throughout, though, so it did work for me. The book is impossibly engrossing, and it’s a hard book to put down. It’s the sort of book you pick up intending to read just a few pages and then look up and oops, it’s an hour later. The world-building and the history involved continue to be delightful, too. As for cons, I found some of the plot elements a bit deus ex machina, and I would’ve liked an epilogue, but all in all they didn’t affect my enjoyment too much.
Overall, this is a superb ending to the trilogy, and I can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next! Recommended for anyone looking for YA adventure with a geeky twist!