December 16, 2022

REVIEW The Sunbearer Trials (The Sunbearer Duology #1) by Aiden Thomas

The Sunbearer Trials (The Sunbearer Duology #1) by Aiden Thomas
Rating: 5 Stars
Release Date: September 6, 2022
Format: eBook (Personal Library) + Audiobook (Borrowed from Library)
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

I truly enjoyed Aiden Thomas’ debut novel Cemetry Boys, so I was excited to learn about their latest book The Sunbearer Trials. It did not disappoint. This book is a great choice for fans of mythology-inspired stories who are looking for a diverse read complete with immersive worldbuilding, unique characters, and a great storyline. 

Aiden Thomas launches readers into an entirely new world complete with a unique pantheon, and as a fan of mythology, I practically had hearts in my eyes. It was a unique choice to start the book with the origin myth, and I think it really paid off. For those who might be curious, the realm is divided into Jade, Obsidian, and Gold deities.  Each group has its own role to play and it’s obvious they are inspired by Latinx and Mexican culture, Despite the influence from cultures we know, each of the gods is completely new and has its own quirks.  It was interesting to see the hierarchy within the pantheon. Jade gods report to higher-up Golds (think of a dynamic similar to the minor gods reporting to the Olympians in Greek mythology). Golds are worshipped above all the others. Obsidians are reviled and have been held at bay by the sun god for generations (think of something akin to the Greek Gods versus the Titans). It was a treat to see the different cities controlled by each god, and how their godly domains influenced their surroundings. I hope we get to see more of the realm in book 2. I also wanted to note that as a reader I appreciate how I never felt overwhelmed even with the massive scope of the worldbuilding and all the different figures that were introduced.

From a social perspective, the world Teo lives in is very queernormative. Sol, the reining god and creator, is non-binary. Guerrero, the Diose of War, has scars from top surgery. Any gender transition is a big celebration. A semidiós can have two same-sex biological parents (traditional reproductive requirements are not a thing when you have a god involved). However, despite having gender transitions be something completely normal and accepted within the world of Reino del Sol, the author also acknowledges the struggles that the trans community goes through. For example, Teo has to deal with how a large amount of his gender dysphoria originates from his wings, and how that puts him at a disadvantage once the trials start. Both Teo and Xio have supportive parents. However, Quetzal does have has moments where it seems like she’s mourning pre-transition Teo, and Mala Suerte’s distrust of doctors negatively impacts Xio’s ability to fully transition (and his ability to get access to tools like hormone replacement and puberty blockers). 

There are two big messages in this story - one, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side and two, don’t count out the underdog. With regards to the semidiós, Teo spends a lot of time being envious of the fame and recognition the Golds receive. However, it isn’t until later in the book that he realizes that fame and recognition come at a cost - higher expectations and less freedom to name two. It’s also a surprise to Teo that despite how much the Golds go out to save mortals, they never really interact with them all that much. Because of their relative isolation, the other competitors regularly end up underestimating Teo but he’s able to prove everyone wrong in the end. 

As you might have guessed, the characters were a highlight for me in this book. My favorite was Niya, the daughter of Tierra. If you like Maritza from Cemetry Boys, then I think you’ll really enjoy Niya’s character. Both of them are great friends and companions to our main characters and fiercely defend them. They are also cognizant of their privilege (as cisgender females, both were born into bodies they identify with) and work hard to check themselves when they slip. Since Aurelio seems to be Teo’s love interest for this series, I’m really hoping that Niya finds someone as well. 

Overall, this was a great novel and I’m so excited to read the final book in the duology once it comes out. Andre Santana was an excellent narrator and brought Teo’s perspective to life beautifully. Thankfully, despite there being a cliffhanger at the end of this book it wasn’t painful. It simply sets the stage for what happens next, and I’m eager to find out. The adventure, descriptive worldbuilding, and fantastic characters make this a great and inclusive young adult fantasy book choice. 

CONTENT WARNINGS: Bullying, Blood and Injury Depiction, Death

About the Book
Welcome to The Sunbearer Trials, where teen semidioses compete in a series of challenges with the highest of stakes, in this electric new Mexican-inspired fantasy from Aiden Thomas, the New York Times bestselling author of Cemetery Boys.

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.

About the Author

Aiden Thomas is a trans, Latinx, New York Times bestselling author of young adult novels. They received an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies and organizes their bookshelves by color.

Pronouns: he/him and they/them


  1. AHHH so glad you enjoyed it! I NEED BOOK 2 NOW THO

    1. I know! Me too. Sadly, I haven't seen any title announcements or release date news as of yet for Book 2 :(


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