“Only the most powerful and honorable semidioses get chosen. I’m just a Jade. I’m not a real hero.”
As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all―they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.
Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds, has never worried about the Trials…or rather, he’s only worried for others. His best friend Niya―daughter of Tierra, the god of earth―is one of the strongest heroes of their generation and is much too likely to be chosen this year. He also can’t help but worry (reluctantly, and under protest) for Aurelio, a powerful Gold semidiós and Teo’s friend-turned-rival who is a shoo-in for the Trials. Teo wouldn’t mind taking Aurelio down a notch or two, but a one-in-ten chance of death is a bit too close for Teo’s taste.
But then, for the first time in over a century, Sol chooses a semidiós who isn’t a Gold. In fact, he chooses two: Xio, the 13-year-old child of Mala Suerte, god of bad luck, and…Teo. Now they must compete in five mysterious trials, against opponents who are both more powerful and better trained, for fame, glory, and their own survival.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
I’ve never read Aiden Thomas’s Cemetary Boys but I’ve heard lots of good things, so I jumped at the chance at reading an ARC of The Sunbearer Trials. Despite its more Middle Grade-like tone, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I found myself enjoying the competitions and the characters.
I think the first thing to note with this book is that despite its YA label, the tone of the book and the way characters are written felt much more MG than YA. Despite the heavy topic (one of these kids is going to be ritualistically murdered!), Teo’s narration felt very light-hearted, always cracking jokes and pulling pranks. The characters could generally be summarized by a couple of words and largely fell into common Middle-Grade archetypes, mean jocks, the badass best friend, the cowardly best friend, adults that don’t listen, etc. However, the characters Thomas uses to portray those archetypes are not always the ones you’d expect, which I found fun and refreshing. And the jokes made definitely fell into the YA side. I got strong Percy Jackson vibes as I read and would have loved this book as a younger teen.
The story is fairly straightforward, ten semidiós, or half-gods, must compete every year in a series of trials where the winner will carry light to society, and the loser is sacrificed to power that light. Where Thomas adds the suspense was in the trials themselves. The trials Teo and friends (and enemies) have to complete I thought were really creative and fun, and gave way to a lot of interesting conflict and internal character development from Teo.
In between each trail, the ten contestants travel to different cities of Reino del Sol, where the contestants do a bit of sightseeing before attending the hosting city’s trail. I loved seeing the unique characteristics of each city, with their Patron gods and dedication to one aspect. Thomas’ worldbuilding really shines as we travel through Reino del Sol and I can’t way to see what else he has in store for book 2.
Overall, I rate this book a 4/5. While I wasn’t expecting the more MG tone, I had a ton of fun reading The Sunbearer Trials. The worldbuilding really shined and as someone who loves tournament arcs, the competitions were a blast to read.
r/Fantasy 2022-23 Bingo Squares:
- Published in 2022
- Non-human protagonist
- BIPOC author
- Features biological family ties