A Review of "Sunbearer Trials" by Aiden Thomas Rating: 5/5
In an outstanding return from the author of the novel “Cemetery Boys,” Aiden Thomas delivers an engaging, fantastical world with an amusing collection of lovable characters in their newest book, “The Sunbearer Trials.” In Reino del Sol, a collection of dioses inspired by Mexican myths and culture preside over and protect mortals with the help of their semidioses – half-mortal, half-diose teens with powers inherited from their parents. Reminiscent of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” the teenage humor referencing the trials of puberty and crushes combined with a simple yet captivating writing style proves for a novel you won’t be able to put down. The novel follows one semidios named Teo, a son of Quetzal, as he is thrown into the Sunbearer Trials. The competition tests semidioses to see which is worthy of renewing Sol’s protective powers across the land, and which will be sacrificed to power the protection that keeps away the malevolent Obsidian dioses. Along the way, Teo competes with semidioses from his past and present – his best friend Niya, a new friend Xio, an old friend (and … crush?) Aurelio – whose varied experiences help Teo to learn and change throughout the trials. Thomas approaches topics like gender, sexuality, and culture in a blunt, almost casual way. Their style both normalizes underrepresented identities while also discussing their nuances without sounding forced or performative. Teo’s battle with body dysphoria and transitioning, the many nontraditional family structures, and the society’s strange relationship with tradition and power are just a few examples of how Thomas explores these topics in a unique and refreshing way. Thomas casually sprinkles in small details that make a world of difference: using gender neutral terms like “semidiose,” specifying and respecting characters’ pronouns and sexualities, and providing an image of a society that (despite its own issues) easily accepts and honors non-cishet identities without question. It gives readers hope that such a world is not too much to dream of. While some serious topics are discussed throughout the book, the overall mood is exciting and competitive. The plot moves along rather quickly, each sobering discussion or troubling development interrupted by a fast-paced scene that reveals more about the characters and the culture they are upholding. The thrilling last few chapters – which make it impossible to stop reading – aren’t the end, either. Readers can look forward to at least one more novel in the series (not to mention a sequel to Thomas’s debut novel, “Cemetery Boys,” coming soon) in addition to more time hearing from our beloved Teo.