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Gods, Beasts, and Burgeoning Romance: Aiden Thomas Talks Celestial Monsters

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Gods, Beasts, and Burgeoning Romance: Aiden Thomas Talks Celestial Monsters

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Published on January 4, 2024

Teo never thought he could be a hero. Now, he doesn’t have a choice.

Author Aiden Thomas returns to the world of The Sunbearer Trials in Celestial Monsters—publishing September 3, 2024 with Feiwel & Friends. We’re thrilled to share the cover below, plus an interview with the author!

New York Times-bestselling author Aiden Thomas returns to the beloved world of The Sunbearer Trials in Celestial Monsters, a heart-stopping duology finale, in which Teo, Aurelio, and Niya must battle the Obsidian gods in order to return Sol to the sky.

Teo never thought he could be a hero. Now, he doesn’t have a choice.

The chaos and destruction wreaking havoc on Reino del Sol is all his fault. After all, it was his refusal to sacrifice a fellow semidiose during the Sunbearer Trials that released the Obsidian gods from their prison.

With the world plunged into perpetual night, Teo, Aurelio and Niya journey to the dark wilderness of Los Restos, battling vicious monsters while dealing with guilt, trauma, and a (very distracting) burgeoning romance between Teo and Aurelio. Once more racing against the clock, the trio are determined to rescue the captured semidioses and retrieve the Sol Stone. With it, Sol and their protective light can return and order can be restored.

Now the future of the whole world is in their hands.

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Celestial Monsters
Celestial Monsters

Celestial Monsters

Cover of Celestial Monsters by Aiden Thomas
Cover art by Mars Lauderbaugh

Aiden Thomas is a trans, Latinx, New York Times Bestselling Author with 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.

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In anticipation of the finale to the Sunbearer duology, author Aiden Thomas spoke with Maya Gittelman for Tor.com:

Maya Gittelman: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your first sequel? What was the most fun?

Aiden Thomas: Oh my gosh, writing this sequel was SO HARD! Before I started, my editor, Holly, warned me that, “Sequels are either really easy, or really hard!” It was definitely the latter! The worst part was when I would come up with REALLY COOL ideas or details for something, but it’s something that happened in The Sunbearer Trials. They don’t let you go back and make changes to the first book after it’s published! It’s so rude! High Fantasy is just such a challenge, but it was really fun to already have my main characters established because I don’t really need to introduce them to readers again. That means I got to focus on just having fun with them! Dialogue was easy to write because their voices are so familiar to me. I also really loved coming up with the new cities and destinations that Teo, Aurelio and Niya visit in the sequel!

MG: As a sequel, how would you characterize the tone in Celestial Monsters versus book one—ie angrier, funnier, more romantic?

I feel like in The Sunbearer Trials, the tone was really happy go lucky for a bit, until things started getting really dark in the third act and Teo really starts seeing the Trials for what they are. There’s going to be a lot of anger and perilous situations (“Monsters” isn’t in the title for nothing!) but I’m happy to report that Celestial Monsters has more romance and yearning that I think readers are gonna LOVE! And there’s some surprises I’m trying to keep secret until readers have the book in their hands…

MG: In The Sunbearer Trials, Teo comes to question so much in his world, from government to faith to the people he can trust—at the same time, his friendships and sense of self emerge even stronger. What sort of challenges will he confront in Celestial Monsters?

Teo really busted his butt in The Sunbearer Trials to keep the people he cares about safe, and to really show Reino del Sol and the Gold gods that Jades—and himself—are worthy of being not only the Sunbearer, but Heroes. But now that he’s been named the Sunbearer, the world is falling apart. Teo has the literal weight of the world on his shoulders going into Celestial Monsters. Getting a fancy title and proving himself to everyone else doesn’t matter. What matters now is stopping the Obsidians and somehow fixing this unsustainable society that’s only been surviving on the deaths of semidioses children. It’s not an overnight fix, and it’s not something Teo can—or even knows how—to fix on his own.

MG: In the midst of world-shaking turmoil, you always anchor the plot with magnetic character dynamics. How do you balance humor, growth, and relationships with such high-stakes action?

When I was younger, I really hated reading because I was always getting serious contemporary and “problem” novels shoved at me, and I thought they were too sad and distressing! I didn’t see any fun in reading those sorts of books until I discovered “Howl’s Moving Castle”. I learned that I could handle books that addressed heavy topics if there was a balance of magic and humor to soften the blow. There’s going to be a lot more danger in the sequel, and we’re going to be hitting some heavy topics, but I made a point to also have (hopefully!) a lot of funny parts to break the tension. Whenever things get really sad or fraught, I like to ease the tension with a joke so readers aren’t too bummed out to wade through the rest of the story with me.

MG: Much of the worldbuilding centers around lineage and legacy: the dioses, their descendants, the divisions of Gold, Jade, Obsidian. As Teo and his crew confront the enormity of their tasks in Celestial Monsters, how does their position as semidioses serve to complicate their mission? What conflicts will they encounter as they work to upend tradition and long-established systems of power—the very systems that maintain everything they’ve known, the very systems that revere some of their beloved parents?

AT: Teo, Niya and Aurelio are going through a LOT in Celestial Monsters, and a big part of it is how they fit and function within society. Niya, Aurelio and even Teo have been raised within the very structured world of the dioses. Niya is realizing the mortality of her best friend while struggling to see her worth if she isn’t physically strong, Aurelio doesn’t want to be a Hero but he feels duty-bound to his mom and his sister, and then Teo just wants to burn the whole thing to the ground. In Celestial Monsters, the trio see and experience how people live outside of the dioses’s jurisdiction. It’s seeing how other communities come together and work without the aid of the Golds that really helps all three—but especially Teo—see the major problems with Reino del Sol, and ways they could make it better. The world outside of this structure is new to Teo, and not everyone sees the Golds with the same reverence as those living within the cities.

MG: The world of The Sunbearer Trials is richly and intentionally queer- and trans-normative. Establishing this baseline allows for deeper explorations of the many manifestations of trans experience and queer community. Can we expect more queer joy and gender exploration in book two?

AT: Absolutely!! There’s going to be discussions about gender identity and expression, new queer characters introduced, and “found family” communities. There’s also going to be on-screen romances that grow and blossom over the course of the book, too!

MG: Spoilerlessly, can you tease the most cathartic scene to write in book two?

AT: This is SUCH A HARD QUESTION because of spoilers! A big themes in my books is parents apologizing to their kids, and there’s a poignant example of it in the third act of Celestial Monsters. I always thought that authors saying they cry when they write their own books is cheesy, but when I went to edit that scene, I started to tear up. I was like “WHAT IS HAPPENING?! THIS CAN’T BE MAKING ME CRY!” Don’t worry, I brought it up with my therapist haha

MG: Who would you want your godly parent to be?

AT: Diosa Amor! I love her and Dezi so much, and I’d love to be able to magically make people feel happy and warm and loved by just touching their arm. Getting guaranteed laughs when I make bad jokes would also be great!

MG: If Yadriel and Julian lived in Reino del Sol, who would their godly parents be?

AT: If Fantasma was interested in having kids (she isn’t), I think Yadriel would 100% be her son! Not just because of her connection to death and the afterlife, but also because of Yadriel’s want to help others and his affinity for peace and quiet. For Julian, I think a lot of folks would probably label him as a Son of Lumbre because of his fiery spirit, but he’d 100% be one of Dios Tormentoso’s kids! Julian is a hurricane shoved into a boy’s body, and the way he goes from angry to joyful is a Tormentoso trait (also, it’d be HILARIOUS to see Julian and Atzi as siblings!).

MG: What would you like young queer readers, especially queer trans readers of color, to take away from the duology as a whole?

AT: I can’t tell you how empowering it was to create a world where the intersections of my identity are celebrated, and even revered. I think it’s wild that inclusivity is still such a rare thing to find in fantasy worlds—there’s this idea that high fantasy needs to be “historically accurate” and have all these Western biases and bigotry about gender and sexuality. I created this world for me and my community and my friends, and the characters within really reflect that.

Queer folks have been here the whole time, and we deserve our own fantasy worlds, too. We are powerful, we are divine, we are heroes, and I want queer and BIPOC readers to feel that when they read Celestial Monsters. You’ll find your power, and your place in the world, and your people, by staying true to yourself.

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