Very good

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I got this as an arc, and was super excited. I’ve heard great things about Aiden Thomas’s other books, but never picked them up because I just didn’t feel like they were for me. But this book was right up my alley.

It’s a magical competition YA fantasy, with a lot of really cool Mexican folklore and culture forming the basis for the world. The main character is a trans boy, who ends up in the competition, despite having zero preparation.

In this world, the gods and goddesses walk amongst the people, and function basically like celebrities. The top tier of gods and goddesses are called Golds, and below them are the Jades. Even further below the Jades are the Obsidian gods, who were all locked away because they were evil.

Every ten years, they hold a competition to see which child of the gods gets to become the Sunbearer. The Sunbearer is tasked with making sure that the Obsidian gods don’t escape from their prison. To do this, they have to kill whoever came in last place as a sacrifice.

This competition is usually only open to the Golds, who go to a special school where they train for this. Since our main character is a Jade, he’s never worried about being chosen to compete, and therefore didn’t do any kind of training. So when he’s picked to participate, it’s really surprising and all he wants to do is run away.

Thankfully, his best friend will also be in the competition, so they can work together to make sure he doesn’t come in last place. A second Jade was also chosen to participate, a shy kid who doesn’t have any magical powers to help him at all. Plus, he’s also trans, so they become friends right away.

I will say that for the first half of this book it kept introducing new characters, and it doesn’t have a dramatis personae, so I just had to remember who was who on my own. Once the competition got going, it was a lot easier to remember who was who, because less important characters faded into the background.

I had a fun time with this book once I got about halfway in, but I wasn’t sure I’d like it at the beginning. I was just overwhelmed by a complicated world and lots of characters. I’d recommend writing down the characters that are part of the competition for yourself, just so you know who is who. It also becomes pretty important to know what all their symbols are, which are pictured throughout the book. The symbols are used to show the rankings for the competition, so if you don’t remember who has which symbol, you’ll just be relying on the couple of rankings the author put into words at the end of each trial.

This book had so much cool world building. As I mentioned briefly before, it’s based on Mexican culture and folklore. Every city has a different specialty, which plays a role in learning about the magic each character has. For example, the main character comes from a city that has a lot of birds. He can speak to birds and can fly with his own awesome wings.

Honestly, my biggest complaint for the Sunbearer Trials is that we don’t get a dramatis personae. I could have easily made one on my own, so why not just include one? That’s it. That’s all I wanted that this book didn’t give me.

One minor theme running throughout the book is classism, because the Jades are seen as lesser than the Golds, and mortal humans are one step below all of the gods and goddesses. They’re basically nothing compared to the gods, which really makes me question the world itself. Since the book opens with a little world building prologue, we know how the world was created. Something just doesn’t seem to be adding up, but it’s not really explored in this book. I’m hoping to get more of this theme in the second book, because I don’t think the main character would walk away without answers to his questions.

I saw in the summary that this is being compared to the Hunger Games and Percy Jackson, and sure, I can see the comparison, on a surface level. All the teenagers in the competition are the kids of the gods, so there’s the Percy Jackson. And I guess all competitions in books are the equivalent of the Hunger Games in YA fantasy, so there’s that. I’ve never read Percy Jackson, so I can’t say how it compares, but in relation to the Hunger Games, this was so much better.

No, I will not apologize to the Hunger Games fans who still haven’t moved on. That series was like 10 years ago. Please go read Six of Crows and find something new to be obsessed with.

Ahem, I digress. Yes, this has kids of gods, yes, this is a competition. And yes, it’s way better. It has so much amazing lgbtq rep, a really cool cultural inspiration to dive into, and the more I sit on it, the more I love it.

So get reading already!