enthralling YA fantasy

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THE SUNBEARER TRIALS is an enthralling YA fantasy of fierce competition, friendship, and mythology. The world built by the gods has grouped its dieties into Golds, Jades, and Obsidians. Obsidians have been ejected from the world, while Golds hold most of the power, trained and revered as heroes, and Jades are considered as less-than, doing their own work in their small ways. Teo is the 17-year-old Jade semidios of Quetzel, and he has not concerned himself too much about the upcoming Sunbearer Trials, mostly because, though they are held every 10 years, a Jade has not been chosen by Sol to be one of the 10 semidioses compete in over a century.

This year, things are immediately different when a Jade is chosen, and even more so when there are two - Teo and Xio, the 13-year-old son of Mala Suerte. Together with Teo's gold friend, Niya, they agree to band together during the upcoming 5 contests that will decide who will be crowned victorious and receive all the glory - and more frighteningly, who will become the teenaged sacrifice that keeps their world safe.

What I loved: This is a lush and imaginative world that the reader gets to explore alongside Teo. In the course of the competition, each of the 5 trials is held in a different city with a little bit of time spent seeing some of the key things of each. Through this, the reader really begins to understand about this world and the gods/goddesses who run it. The mythology was really intriguing and learning about the different deities and their powers/cities were really fascinating. While their world has been run on this sacrifice every ten years, the mythology of it is so removed that the participating semidioses do not yet fully grasp what is occurring and why - the traditions persist regardless.

Teo is a charming character who wants to do the right thing and seek justice around him, even while making trouble in his own way. He has been struggling with his body and particularly his wings and the way they look in a way that will resonate with teens, particularly those who are trans. Teo and another character are both trans in this world that accepts them easily for who they are, and there is a great conversation that they have about it during the story. Niya is another really fun character who is passionate and headstrong in her own way. She compliments Teo and wants the best for everyone around her. Aurelio is another character that really grows on the reader. He used to be friends with Teo when they were younger, but circumstances have separated them, mainly by the difference in their status. As they see each other throughout the competition, conversations that lead to deeper understandings really help to bring clarity to their situations and the why of Aurelio in a really endearing way.

Themes around competition, seeking justice, helping those who need it, sacrifice, religion, the problems of a society divided by class, friendship, family, abuse, and embracing yourself make this a really compelling read. A major theme throughout the story is about the ways people are divided by society and the problems with this at every level. Even those who seem to benefit from these divisions are truly not, in the end. Teo sees this from the middle of the groupings and begins to understand the meaning of the groupings and their inadequacies. Throughout the competition, the luster of Gold begins to wear off, and the delineations become more meaningless in a way that asks the reader important questions about social divides.

Of note, the book does end with a bit of a cliffhanger that shows the reader where the next book will go. This one included a pretty big twist at the end that I definitely did not see coming, and I am excited to see where the next one will take us! While there is some action/adventure type danger, this is a book that could work for a wide age range and may appeal to younger YA audiences.

Final verdict: A thrilling competition amidst lush world-building makes THE SUNBEARER TRIALS an enthralling and compelling read. Recommend for fans of PERCY JACKSON, THE HUNGER GAMES, and RED QUEEN.

Please note that I received an ARC. All opinions are my own.