Cover of Chosen by Tran Matharu. A cloaked figure with a Japanese sword crouches on a Mayan ruin under two moons

About the Book

Title: The Chosen (Contender #1)
Published: 2019
Series: Contender

Cover Story: Mayan Samurai
Drinking Buddy: Underdog
Testosterone Level: Elevated
Talky Talk: It’s All Down To You
Bonus Factors: Land of the Lost, Reform School
Bromance Status: We Who are About to Die…

Cover Story: Mayan Samurai

So we have the Japanese warrior kneeling on the roof of the Mayan temple, under the light of two moons. All of this really happened in the book, so I’m good.

The Deal:

Cade Carter, an unassuming Indian-American kid, was attending a private school that his parents had to sacrifice for him to attend. When his roommate framed him for the theft of a bunch of laptops, Cade was sent to a rough juvenile school, where he struggled to survive the brutal conditions and avoid a bully named Finch. But one day, Cade wakes up and he’s…somewhere else. Somewhere where two moons shine in the night sky. Somewhere with horrible, inhuman monsters who try to slaughter him. Somewhere with deserts and jungles and rivers. Somewhere with Roman ruins. And Mayan ruins. And strange relics from all over time. Cade has no idea how he wound up here, or where ‘here’ is. But he’s not alone. Other kids from the school are here: fellow outcast Spex, smart ass Scott, techie Yoshi, and sullen loner Eric. Unfortunately, Finch and a couple of his flunkies have also arrived, and are asserting themselves as the kings of this new world.

As they wander through this hellscape, they meet others. There’s Quintus, a young Roman soldier, who’s completely deaf. There’s Amber, a British school girl from 1985, who has been transported here with three of her classmates. And there’s the Codex, a flying robot who can answer any question…except the ones Cade would like answered.

Drinking Buddy: Underdog

Two pints of beer cheersing

Cade comes from a poorish family, so when a rich kid frames him for the theft, no one believes him. Then he’s shoved in a brutal reform school. As he’s clearly not a fighter, he’s constantly picked on. Because he’s Indian, Finch calls him ‘Apu’, and the name sticks.

When he’s teleported, things seem the same. Finch and his crew take over and Cade is forced to put up with bullies and with horrific monsters. Or is he? Finch isn’t exactly leader material, and more and more of the displaced are looking to Cade for guidance. Quintus, who was never much of a soldier due to his deafness, teaches everyone about old school combat. And when Cade comes upon a cache of old Japanese swords, he’s suddenly not the cowering wimp that he used to believe himself to be.

Testosterone Level: Elevated

This book is pretty much non-stop action, with everyone fighting various otherworldly monsters. And dinosaurs. Did I mention there are dinosaurs in this world? At any rate, it’s a fight to the death. And that’s without Finch and his crew constantly threatening to beat everyone’s head in.

Also, according to the Codex, Cade’s crew is due to fight in a huge battle in a few days. And if they lose, everyone will die. That’s everyone on earth. The entire planet. Whoever set this up has picked Cade as earth’s champion, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Talky Talk: It’s Down to You

In the tradition of Luke Skywalker, Superman, Harry Potter, and Cinderella, unassuming Cade must rise from obscurity, win the prize, and save the world. At times, Cade was somewhat annoying, making baffling strategic decisions, and not utilizing the Codex nearly enough. At the same time, I think we’d all be in over our heads in his situation.

Bonsu Factor: Land of the Lost

So this dimension is full of stuff that has been lost to time, and the Codex can provide the history of any earth artifacts. The swords, for instance, were lost along with an American soldier, from occupied Japan in 1945. The Mayan city vanished from the Mexican jungle in the 1930s. Quintus’s army disappeared while battling the Scots in the distant past. How did all this time detritus wind up here? The Codex won’t tell.

It’s interesting to watch the time refugees dealing with each other. As Amber and her friends are modern girls, Cade keeps forgetting that they’re from nearly forty years in his past. In their world, phones are for talking to people and nothing else. ‘Google? What a funny word.’ And if they should ever get out of here, is that the end of their friendship?

Bonus Factor: Reform School

The authorities don’t want to hear about Cade’s innocence. The other kid was rich, therefore Cade is guilty. He’s thrown into a school where they only want to beat him down ‘so they can build him up again.’ Brutes like Finch run the place. Even worse, he can’t fight back or he’ll be punished. Cade is put in solitary when the authorities find Finch’s bruises on him. Therefore he’s been fighting and needs to be punished.

That’s the penal system for you.

Bromance Status: We Who are About to Die…

I can’t wait to join you in the arena for part two.

Literary Matchmaking

Kindness for Weakness

In Kindness for Weakness by Shawn Goodman, we see another look at the brutal juveline detention system.

A Really Awesome Mess

Or A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brenden Halpin.

Crusher (Crusher #1)

A guy everyone has given up on proves himself a hero in the fighting arena in Crusher, by Niall Leonard.

Also, the first part of this book is essentially Holes, by Louis Sachar.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book, but no money or authentic samurai swords.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.