Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: fantasy; historical fantasy; mythology; mayan; fairy tale;
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.
The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.
Review: 4 Stars. This was a fantastic book. It wasn’t just a fantastic read, it was, like, fantastical. I don’t know enough about Mexican and Central American mythology and wanted to dive into this universe after the first chapter. Sheepishly, my only actual references to anything before this book were movies like The Book of Life and Coco, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Because of this, when Book of the Month had this as an option, I jumped at the opportunity, because I’ve always been fascinated with mythology, and boy I’m glad I did.
I love this book though, because I feel like I’m completely drawn in as a third character on Hun-Kamé and Casiopea’s quest. The imagery, the characterization, and the emotion of this book all weaves such a beautiful tapestry. As I was reading, it felt like, at any moment, I could be transported into the 1920’s right with them. Moreno-Garcia’s way with words is astounding.
It took me a full chapter to really get into this book, not gonna lie. I was bored by Cinderella-esque story, but then Moreno-Garcia literally called me out and wrote Casiopea saying she wasn’t some Cinderella type and so I was like, “okay, dang, sorry… guess I’ll give it a shot.” If I’m being honest, it wasn’t until the chest is opened and the quest itself officially began that I truly got invested in the story.
None of the Leyva family is given much backstory, (aside from Martín) except that they treat Casiopea (and her mother) like servants. Even her mother wants her to fall in line and just suck it up, but it all kind of serves a purpose— there’s no guilt when she leaves, and as a reader, I have no second-hand guilt about her leaving anything behind when her quest begins either. I guess that’s the intention, and because it works, it furthers the plot along.
I really loved moving through Mexico with Casiopea and Hun-Kamé. Getting to see the different states through Casiopea’s eyes was a joy because Moreno-Garcia really captured the “small village girl experiencing the big city” vibe. From the train rides, to the carnivals, it was so exciting to read.
My absolute favorite part of the book was Juan. The charmer. I went on a short twitter rant about him. (You can view it HERE.) I legit laughed out loud when he threatened to crush her every bone. When he promised to drown her and use her bloated body as an instrument. And then when he backed off so quickly and held his hands up, “I thought we were just playing” — seriously. He was my favorite stop on their quest.
Each stop on their quest had a different feel. Someone had secret wisdom for Casiopea, just in case she needed to get out of a bind, Juan brought humor to a tricky situation, an immortal seductress brought temptation and revealed hidden truths, and a sorcerer helped them relay on each other.
The hardest part for me— although beautiful — was when Hun-Kamé explained to Casiopea the reality of what would come should they succeed. “There is no ‘after,’” she whispered (245).
That part hit me straight with an obsidian knife to the heart. Like she’s willing to walk the Black Roads for you bro. And now there is no after. Ouch.
But then later, Moreno-Garcia got me again when Xibalba sees in Hun-Kamé’s soul and “the flowers, linked together, spoke to her. They said, “My love.” (326) She still has to go back to the Middleworld alone, but at least he’s feeling it, too! I think there’s a speck of dust in my eye.
Overall, this book was beautiful, adventurous, and full of heart. I loved the language, the Mayan myth, and the spirit of the story. It’s made me want to find more stories with the same energy so I can learn more and immerse myself in the culture even further.
It’s a great read that I’d definitely recommend!