A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Challenger is the second book in a sci-fi survival series by Taran Matharu, author of the Summoner series. Teens stranded on an alien planet that fuses many time periods on Earth fight for their lives again, this time after being captured by enslavers and sent to an island that replicates the Roman empire. They're forced into coliseum-style gladiator battles where they kill other teens with swords, arrows, and spears. Some of these teens are eaten by dinosaurs in the ring, with some brief graphic descriptions of the carnage. Other violence includes beatings by pirates, a fight against a giant monster that yields many injuries, and a graphic description of a weapon removed from a gut and the hole stitched up. Other mature content includes a bit of swearing (not beyond "s--t"), some reluctant underage drinking to get a pirate talking, some kissing, and a teen boy and girl modestly bathing together. The cast in this series is diverse. Cade, the main character, is half-Indian, and his friends are Black and Asian. Cade continues to be the brave leader in this story. He makes compassionate decisions when he can, befriending and helping an orphan boy and a mini-dino with a broken wing. He's also a quick and strategic thinker and builds strong bonds with his friends.
What's the story?
In THE CHALLENGER: CONTENDER, BOOK 2, it's been two months since Cade and friends battled monsters at the keep, and Cade can't take waiting for the next trial anymore. He coaxes the floating alien instrument called the Codex into waking up, and just like that the countdown to the next challenge begins. The Codex explains that one of them and only one -- guess who? -- is to battle a gigantic hydra, and if they don't win, the aliens behind the cruel game will destroy Earth and leave them stranded on this planet full of mashed-up Earth time periods and relics. While their situation seems hopeless, they think there's a chance of survival if they can find a suit of armor for protection. The Codex tells them there's one in the dinosaur- and slave-trader-infested jungle. They just have to risk their lives to claim it.
Is it any good?
If the idea of scrawny teens training to become gladiators and fighting dinosaurs excites you, then this sci-fi sequel is exactly what you've been looking for. There's a bit of Maze Runner here, plus The Hunger Games, plus the Edge of Extinction series by Laura Martin -- most of this mash-up trilogy has a precedent or three -- but The Challenger and the first book, The Chosen, weave in some fascinating history. If you didn't know that they used to flood the Roman Colosseum for sea battles, now you do. (There's a great NOVA special on this, incidentally.)
The action is at the forefront of the story, especially the teens' tough training regime. But there are a few standout characters, like their savvier-than-she-looks trainer Tsuru and Cade's Roman friend Quintus. Things look pretty grim for the finale, with more challenges ahead and a cruel alien overlord that seems impossible to outsmart. But if they can manage to not get eaten by dinosaurs at the Colosseum, maybe a happy ending and a return to Earth is possible.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence at the Colosseum in The Challenger. How do Cade and his friends feel about killing people? Does seeing it through the eyes of teens who never wanted to be gladiators make the violence more jarring, or less?
What did you learn about history here? What other books have you read that incorporate history into the story?
Will you read the finale of the Contender trilogy? What do you think will happen to Cade and friends?
- Author: Taran Matharu
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Dinosaurs, Sports and Martial Arts, Adventures, Friendship, History, Misfits and Underdogs, Ocean Creatures, Pirates, Space and Aliens
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
- Publication date: August 11, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: September 13, 2020
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