Since this is a clean reads site, I want to be up front for any parents who are looking for clean YA reads for their teens and for more sensitive readers. The Seventh Sun is a clean read and would be rated PG-13. There are a couple of caveats. Human and animal sacrifice is a part of the culture. While the human sacrifices are not on the page, they're heavily implied and animal sacrifice, while not graphic is a bit closer to the reader. Also, there is a sensual scene with temptation to take a physical relationship too far. It's realistic and provides an opportunity for reflections on boundaries. However, this makes the story more appropriate for older teens or adults. And potentially a pass for readers who are uncomfortable with any physical contact beyond chaste kissing.
Where do I start on what makes The Seventh Sun so good? Setting, character, plot, theme? Yes. All of this. First there's the story world. Based on Mesoamerican culture, the majestic pyramids, lush vegetation, abundance of wildlife, and rich details of cultures of the Chicome people with each region having control over certain elements.
Prince Ahkin with the death of his father and implied self-sacrifice of his mother, he is now responsible for the sun rising each morning and setting each night. And there is the prophesy of the world ending under this, the seventh sun.
Mayana is from the region that controls water. A daughter among a family of sons parented by a sometimes harsh widowed father, Mayana hates making animal sacrifices and drawing blood each time she needs to control water.
Now that Prince Ahkin is the ruler of Chicome, he must select a wife. Six girls including Mayana are selected, each one from a different region with a different power. One will become Prince Ahkin's wife and the other five sacrificed. Except, Mayana is certain some texts have been altered, and she questions the need for human and animal sacrifice. She must enter the sun temple to read the original texts, the forbidden temple located in Prince Ahkin's village.
The six candidates, Prince Ahkin, and supporting cast of family and servants are engaging. There are the devious and endearing candidates, but each one is unique rather than stick figures from central casting.
So we have a great setting and fun characters. But the plot. On the surface, it sounds like another typical dystopian selection to the death book. How can that be something that kept me up way too late with "one more chapter"? Oh that's just the premise. The plot twists and turns more than an Olympic gymnast's tumbling pass. It ends with a "what just happened?" So good! And why it's the best book I read this year. The theme. The book is solidly secular with a polytheistic religion and required sacrifices. At the same time, Christian themes are never out of reach. Love, the needlessness of animal/human sacrifice, sacred texts, self-sacrifice/selflessness, peace, faith. So many themes to explore, especially the religious and political ones.