Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: August 6th, 2019
*ARC received via Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review. All quotations are subject to change in the final version.
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.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a beautiful, lyrical historical fantasy novel set in 1920’s Mexico. In it, a Mayan death god and a girl who dreams of adventure team up for a quest that will determine the fate of the world.
“She had looked up in the night sky far too often, trying to divine her future in the face of the pockmarked moon. Casiopea was a realist, but her youth also made it impossible to remain rooted to the earth every second of the day. Once in awhile she sneaked a line of poetry into her heart, or memorized the name of a star.”
Casiopea is merely a servant to her esteemed family. Seen as a mixed-race bastard child, she is isolated and mistreated, receiving the brunt of the abuse from her cruel and arrogant cousin, Martín. That all changes one day when she discovers a chest full of bones and unknowingly unleashes a long-trapped death god. By freeing him, she is now bound, and is forced to accompany him on a quest to reclaim his full power and his throne in the underworld of Xibalba. Their journey takes them throughout Mexico to the darkly beautiful Mayan underworld. They encounter many magical beings and intriguing characters along the way as they race a ticking clock. With each passing second, the death god grows more human, Casiopea draws nearer to death, and the usurper to the throne plots to stop them from succeeding in their quest.
This book transported me to Mexico during the glitzy Jazz Age, a time when the customs of old were clashing with Americanization and the changing cultural landscape. I absolutely adore the unique setting, as it was a breath of fresh air to read fantasy with a non-Western focus. The main characters begin in a conservative, primitive town and journey to Mérida, Mexico City, Tijuana, and many other places throughout Mexico.
The mythology is woven into this novel seamlessly. Being unfamiliar with Mayan folklore, it was interesting to read about Xibalba, the World Tree, and the Hero Twins, among many others. There are malicious ghosts, wicked sorcerers, and mischievous demons. Xibalba, the underworld, is especially dark and creepy, but beautiful and full of magic.
“You did not rescue me,” Casiopea replied. “I opened that chest. Besides, I wasn’t a princess in a tower. I knew I’d get away one way or another, and I was not waiting for a god to liberate me. That would have been both silly and unlikely.”
The point of view in this book is third-person omniscient, revolving primarily around Casiopea but occasionally jumping to Hun-Kamé, the death god, Vucub-Kamé, his throne-stealing brother, and Martín. I love Casiopea as a character. She is independent, strong-willed, and brave, but she has just enough fear and self-doubt to make her relatable. Throughout the novel, she battles internally with her traditional upbringing and her growing fascination with flappers and automobiles. Hun-Kamé has interesting character development throughout the course of the book as he shifts from an stoic god to something more human. Martín, who begins as a completely unforgivable character, somehow redeems himself toward the end. There is a thread of romance, but it is handled very well and perfectly integrated into the story.
Ultimately, this is a book about life and death, the meaning of sacrifice, and the gray area between right and wrong. The writing is lyrical, the setting is beautiful, and the story ticked off all of my boxes. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy and fairy tales.
“There was sadness in her, of course, but she didn’t wish to crack like fine china either. She could not wither away. In the world of the living, one must live. And had this not been her wish? To live. Truly live.”