Leah’s Review of “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

By: Leah

Originally posted on Leah’s Books.

Gods of Jade and Shadow

  • Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: July 23, 2019
  • Publisher: Del Rey Books

CONTENT WARNING: bullying, blood, racism, misogyny, violence, mild gore

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Plot Summary

The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of the 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 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.

Overall Impression

Normally, I’m a fast reader, but this one took me quite a while, mainly because both the writing and the story were so beautiful that I wanted to savor it. Ultimately, it took me four days to finish this, but only because I kept stopping to slow down my reading so that I could enjoy this.

To start with, it’s written in a distinctive style that I’ve seen in her other books. The writing is simple, yet beautiful and evocative, so well-written that I could vividly picture everything that I was reading. In addition, I love a good fantasy/folklore story that is set outside the oversaturated setting of medieval Europe. This one is set in 1920s Mexico, and provides insight into the social, political, and religious changes indicative of the times—women are cutting their hair and wearing shorter dresses, people are bucking against the rigidly held Catholic beliefs, and the government is shifting between religious and secular control. However, none of this really seems to affect Casiopea much, since she’s living out in the middle of nowhere.

Casiopea is so easy to like, especially in the beginning, when she’s presented as somewhat of a Cinderella figure. The whole family is reliant on her rich grandfather, even if he’s not a nice guy. In addition, Casiopea is not just the one responsible for doing chores around the house all day, but she’s bullied by her jerk of a cousin, Martín. She’s darker-skinned than her other family members, indicative of her Indian ancestry, but it’s also looked at as a bad thing. Casiopea still dreams of bigger and better things for herself.

“Tomorrow, there would come the same litany of chores, her grandfather’s voice ordering her to read, her cousin’s taunts. The world was all gray, not a hint of color to it.”

When Casiopea accidentally frees Hun-Kamè, the Mayan god of death, she finds herself linked to his quest, and has to tag along with him. But along the way, she starts to view him as a friend, rather than a deity. I liked seeing Casiopea start to break out of her shell, and I also enjoyed seeing Hun-Kamè change throughout the story. It was easy to stop thinking of him as a god of death, and more of a man.

“She was confused by the city and its incessant activity, but also happy and grateful for Hun-Kamé’s company. She thought of him as her friend.”

We also get other POVs in this story—we see things through Martín’s eyes, as well as Vucub-Kamè, the brother of Hun-Kamè’s, and the one who was responsible for his imprisonment. Neither of these two is a sympathetic character, and I was hoping they’d be foiled by plucky, smart Casiopea and her benefactor. 

“Ah, there is none more fearful of thieves than the one who has stolen something, and a kingdom is no small something.”

There is a beautiful juxtaposition of Mayan beliefs and mythology with the modernity of the 1920s in Mexico—society is rapidly changing, and while the old religious ways are left behind for the church, we also see the cost of those changes for the people of Mexico. This book kept me entranced, exploring the myths of the Mayans, their beliefs, and the practices, bringing these ancient facets to light in a more modern setting. And Casiopea and Martín find themselves embroiled in the plotting of the gods, in a world where speaking things aloud can give them the power to happen:

“The things you name do grow in power, but others that are not ever whispered claw at one’s heart anyway, rip it to shreds even if a syllable does not escape the lips.”

Watching Casiopea change from a bullied servant to a confident woman was an incredible transformation, and I was cheering for her the entire time. The story has some blood and mention of sacrifices associated with Mayan rituals, but overall it wasn’t overly gory or brutal. I have to admit, Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a master—I’ve read three of her books, each in different genres, and I’m blown away by her talents. She’s quickly become one of my favorites.

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