Gods of Jade and Shadow
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
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.
I received a copy of Gods of Jade and Shadow from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review.
Gods of Jade and Shadow was one of my most anticipated releases of 2019, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia didn’t let me down.
Casiopea Tun and her mother have been living with her mother’s family in their small Mexican town since the death of her beloved father, a poet who was considered an inadequate match for Casiopea’s mother, where the pair of them are treated like Cinderella figures. Her grandfather is a harsh, intimidating (and ageing) man, and her cousin, Martín, is their grandfather in miniature.
When Casiopea is forbidden from joining the rest of the family on an outing and is forced to stay at home, she unlocks a box in her grandfather’s room and accidentally wakes up a Mayan death god, Hun-Kamé, and soon finds herself on a quest across Mexico to help him reclaim his throne from his treacherous brother.
You all know by now how much I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s work, but her writing is absolutely gorgeous in this novel. This entire story reads like a Mexican fairy tale and it’s a delight to read from start to finish; its fairy tale quality means it’s a story that’s familiar in many ways, and Casiopea herself comments on the importance of stories throughout, but what’s refreshing is the focus on Mayan mythology and the world of Xibalba that Moreno-Garcia brings so vividly to life.
I’ve read so many stories inspired by Roman and Greek mythology, even Norse mythology pops up fairly frequently, but I hadn’t read anything based on Mayan mythology before, and I don’t know why. When I was younger (around 8 or 9) I had a mild obsession with the Aztecs and the history of South America and Mexico’s indigenous peoples, and this novel has awakened my craving for more stories based around these histories.
On paper it might not seem that Mayan mythology and the 1920s would walk hand-in-hand, but the setting works so well here. There’s a thread throughout the novel about what it means to be alive as opposed to what it means to just be living, and the 1920s was a tumultuous decade in which women began to experiment with short skirts and short hair and break away from the morals that had been preached at them since birth. It’s strange that someone might live the most they’ve ever lived while accompanying a death god on his quest, but it was that juxtaposition between life and death – Casiopea and Hun-Kamé; the 1920s and the ancient world; Earth and Xibalba – that made this novel work so well.
The real heart of this novel is the relationship between Casiopea and Hun-Kamé. They couldn’t be more different – they are quite literally Death and the Maiden – but they’re both searching for something. Hun-Kamé’s trying to return home while Casiopea’s doing everything she can to get as far away from home as possible, and the way they grow to understand one another, particularly how Casiopea’s mortality softens Hun-Kamé’s edges, is nothing short of lovely to read.
Gods of Jade and Shadow reads like a dream through the dark underworld of Mayan mythology and the bustling streets of Jazz Age Mexico; a beautifully bittersweet tribute to the power of stories and what makes a hero.