The Sunbearer Trials

Written by Aiden Thomas, published by Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, 2022

Aiden Thomas, bestselling YA author of Cemetery Boys (2020) delivers a dazzling, magical dystopian Mexican-inspired fantasy tale. The Sunbearer Trials is a duology (two books) and this first installment is non-stop heart-pumping adventure that you will have a hard time putting down. This YA novel is geared for 13 to 18 year-olds, but I loved reading it as an adult.


The Sunbearer Trials have been happening every decade for thousands of years. These special games are dedicated to Sol, the Sun God, and are essential to replenish the sun’s power and to keep the world safe from evil Obsidian gods and monsters locked within celestial prisons among the constellations. Ten eligible competitors, all semidioses (half human and half god) between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, are chosen by Sol based on their worthiness. The winner of the trials will be given the special honor of carrying the light of the Sun to the temples in Reino del Sol for the next ten years, while the loser (the one who comes in last place) will be sacrificed, with their body melting into an elixir that will provide safety and protection for the next ten years. Sadly, there must be a winner and there must be a loser, otherwise the world will come to an end. 

The ten competitors in the Sunbearer Trials are usually Gold, not Jade semidioses. Like their parents, the kids of Gold gods are stronger and more powerful than Jade semidioses. Some Gold semidioses can produce and control elements and even move mountains. They go to a fancy academy and get special training beginning at age seven. For some reason, this year Sol has chosen two Jade semidioses for the trials – Teo, the seventeen-year-old trans son of Quetzal, the goddess of birds, and Xio, the thirteen-year-old trans son of Mala Suerte, the god of bad luck. Teo and Xio are at a huge disadvantage in the trials. They were not deemed powerful enough to attend the Academy and get special training, and instead attended public school with mortal kids. Teo, our storyteller wonders if Sol chose them just to be an easy sacrifice. Teo certainly did not expect to be selected, but now that he has been selected, he has no intention of sacrificing himself to power the Sun and protect Reino del Sol. He plans on helping Xio too. Teo says, “Outcasts need to stick together, right?” Thus begins Teo’s journey in the Sunbearer Trials, where he will make new friends, rediscover old friends, and make new enemies. How will Teo and Xio fare in the five mysterious trials against opponents who are much stronger and who have trained for these competitions all their lives?

If you love Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games, The Sunbearer Trials have similar parallels. The Hunger Games dystopian world is set in Panem, a North American country consisting of a wealthy Capitol and 13 districts, while Reino Del Sol is a landscape set with magnificent Gold cities, polluted Jade cities, and wild jungles with abandoned ruins of betrayer gods beyond the reach of Sol, where dangerous animals and monsters roam freely. The Sunbearer contestants wear elaborate costumes and fight with fantastical weaponry in scenic natural settings, but they also live in a world much like ours, as the semidioses use mobile phones and stay in touch with friends on social media. This book has a diverse cast of queer characters with a variety of different identities, all with strong and distinctive voices. There are queer good guys and bad guys, and even Sol uses they/them/their pronouns.

The five trials are each unique, and the challenges are thrilling to read. There is a cliffhanger at the end of this book, which is not surprising, as this is the first of a planned duology. The ending is satisfying, and it makes you eager to know what will happen next. Unfortunately, we will have to wait until the second book is published.

In September 2022, The Sunbearer Trials became a New York Times Bestseller, and #1 on the INDIE (independent publishing companies) Bestseller List for Young Adult Books. My prediction is that this book will win many literary awards for books published in 2022. 

About the Author: Aiden Thomas (he/they) is a trans, Latinx, New York Times Bestselling author with a MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. Their books include Cemetery Boys, Lost in the Never Woods, and The Sunbearer Trials (The Sunbearer Duology #1)

This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans board member Barb Shumer, who is a retired public librarian.

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