Thomas Checked All My Boxes Once Again!

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In this action-packed start to a fantastical duology, ten semidioses compete in five aggressive challenges in order to claim the realm's greatest honor: to become this decade's Sunbearer and complete the sacred ritual of Sol to maintain peace and prosperity throughout the land.

Teo, the seventeen year old trans son of the goddess Quetzal, has finally come of age that he could be chosen to compete in the Sunbearer trials. But he's not worried. As a Jade, he knows that the only way he'll be participating in the trials is through spectating. The prestigious children of the major gods, referred to as Golds, have trained their entire lives for this competition, but as the son of a minor god, or a Jade, Teo knows his place on the hierarchical god chain. Teo is a bit worried about his best friend Niya, who is a Gold child of the god Tierra. But when the day for the selection comes, something unprecedented occurs: not only is Teo selected to compete, but another Jade by the name of Xio is, too. Can the three underdogs survive these dangerous trials, or will they end up on the bottom of the totem pole and end up as a sacrifice to the great god Sol?

After reading "Cemetery Boys," I was ecstatic to read any book by Aiden Thomas. And "The Sunbearer Trials" did not disappoint! Once again, Thomas hits gold with a fantastic fantasy read featuring Mexican culture, a transgender protagonist, and important societal issues in a magical setting. One of my favorite things about Thomas' writing style is their humor. There were so many times that this book had me cackling and my sister literally turned to me and was like, "Are you okay?" I love the witty way that the dialogue is written and the banter between friends seems so authentic between Teo, Xio, and Niya. Also, there were some sneaky pop culture references to the most random of things which often had me giggling.

Despite this book taking place in a magical world, there are many modern issues that this book addresses in a nonchalant way including themes such as gender identity, unjust social hierarchies, and self identity. Both Teo and Xio are transgender, so they have some really solid conversations between bros about transitioning and becoming proud of their image and themselves as people. The social hierarchy between the Golds, Jades, and Obsidians is also highly problematic. The Golds never interact with mortals and believe that they are superior to them, while the Jades are viewed as lesser to the Golds. The Obsidians have been cast out of society in its entirety, leaving them destitute and angry. I think that this scenario is easily compared to many things happening in our world and leaves room for many intriguing discussion points.

Another thing I love about Thomas' books is the Mexican culture and folklore. Though Thomas constructs their own mythological world in this one, Mexico's influence is breathed into every single page. All of the gods/dioses are named in Spanish, Mexican food is everywhere, and our main character is even part Quetzal! The quetzal has got to be my favorite bird, and I loved seeing them be such an important part of this story. I also like how Teo's wings added to the gender dysphoria that he felt, because he was born with the brown wings of a female quetzal. I thought that this was a brilliant way to enhance the gender themes in this book while taking advantage of the magical setting.

The biggest downfall of this book had to be it's predictability. That was "Cemetery Boys'" one major flaw, too, so this might be a weakness in Thomas' writing. However, I feel that the writing style, the creative story plot, the humor, and all the other elements make up for this minor flaw. I would love to see Thomas shock me one of these times, but I guess we'll see.

Overall, I love "The Sunbearer Trials" in its entirety. Fantasy is my favorite genre and any time I can get fantasy books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters, I truly am a happy camper. After two reads, I'm pretty confident that Aiden Thomas will be an auto buy author from here on out. This book is often pitched as "Percy Jackson" meets "The Hunger Games," and I'd say this tagline is actually pretty accurate. It combines the demigod status and humor of "Percy Jackson" and the high stake games that these kids have no choice to compete in from "The Hunger Games." If this sounds like a fun combo, then be sure to check this one out! I cannot wait to get my hands on the second installment!