Set in a Mexican-inspired, modern-day fantasy world, Teo is one of ten semidioses (demigods) selected by Sol to compete in the Sunbearer Trials, a competition held once every ten years. The winner gets the honor of carrying light and life to temples across the kingdom, and the “loser” is sacrificed to refuel the Sun Stones that protect the kingdom from the dark traitor dioses, considered an incredible honor in this world. The problem is, though, that Teo is only a Jade semidios, and he must compete against much more powerful Gold semidioses who are more powerful and have been training for this their whole lives.
The Mexican-inspired pantheon of gods and demigods was an absolute delight and perhaps my favorite thing about the entire book. Author Aiden Thomas wove queernormativity, both gender and sexual orientation, straight into the world-building, which was wonderful to read. Transgender and nonbinary readers will appreciate Teo’s experience with body dysmorphia and conversations with another, young trans boy, written by an author who is transgender themself. Teo’s fellow semidios competitors, enemies and allies and those not clearly one or the other, are fun additions to the cast, even if most of them don’t enjoy terribly much character depth. Xochi, daughter of Diosa Primavera, and Niya, daughter of Dios Tierra, are personal favorites. While the book overall is highly enjoyable, the stakes don’t feel particularly high for the majority of the story, including during the actual trials…until things blow up in a big way at the end (spoiler alert: this is a planned duology). I love that Thomas put Teo in a situation where there truly was no good solution, and either choice he made would have dire consequences. While I wasn’t particularly convinced of the romantic vibes we were clearly intended to feel between Teo and his love interest Aurelio, I definitely plan to read the sequel. This distinctly and unabashedly Latinx fantasy world is a worthy addition to the YA fantasy genre. Also, the queer jokes? *chef’s kiss*
Goes well with:
This book gives major Percy Jackson vibes, if it were crossed with a less murder-y Hunger Games.