Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 352
Publisher: Del Rey
Notable Notables: Mexican characters, Mayan death gods, mortal/immortal slowburn
Recommended Readers: Mythology lovers and those seeking well-written, diverse stories
Thank you, NetGalley and the publisher, for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, where have you been all my life? How did you know that I am a reader who constantly craves that miraculous blend of historical fiction and fantasy? That I love gods and mythology and that surreal line that divides immortals from mortals?
Gods of Jade and Shadow transports readers to Mexico in the 1920s–a period I’ve often loved but which is commonly viewed through a white, American lens. Seeing the Jazz Age and flapper fashion juxtaposed with Mexican culture and conservative Catholicism was a treat, but the real fun begins when Casiopea Tun opens a chest locked in her grandfather’s estate. There, the bones inside form into Mayan death god Hun-Kamé.
Betrayed by his brother, Vucub-Kamé, and locked away for fifty years, Hun-Kamé seeks the parts of himself that were stolen from him and to reclaim his place as the Lord of Xibalba. With a bone shard embedded in her hand, Casiopea must accompany the god on his journey, but leaving the life of a thankless servant in her grandfather’s house makes the choice an easy one. Instead, Casiopea must discover the life she wants to live and ensure Hun-Kamé succeeds against his brother because if he does not, it will mean the demise of them both.
Though the story takes place in a historical setting, it reads and feels so much like an untold myth being divulged for the first time. The descriptions are rich but not overbearing, and we are often inside the characters’ heads, viewing the world and their perceptions of others through their eyes. Casiopea and Hun-Kamé’s understanding of each other starts off with the expected confusion found between mortals and gods. Even though Hun Kamé undergoes his own interesting metamorphosis, his status as an immortal is almost always apparent. At no point did I feel that Hun-Kamé was anything but otherworldly, even as his relationship with Casiopea shifted and took on new shapes. Their slowburn is a fantastic one, a prime example of how it can be done with perfect pacing and care attributed to it.
Then, there’s the conflict between Casiopea and her selfish, entitled cousin Martín. He’s the type who believes that being a man and the family heir warrants him unquestionable respect, which Casiopea refuses to give him, and why should she? Martín is petty, lashes out at any perceived slight, and treats her like a servant instead of family.
As Casiopea becomes Hun-Kamé’s champion, Martín is chosen to be Vucub-Kamé’s in this contest between gods, and it’s quickly apparent to mortal and immortal alike how pitifully pathetic Martín is. But even in mythological stories like this, he has his part to play. It’s only fitting that two wronged gods seek to pit two family members with bad blood against each other. In real life, Martín would be intolerable, but I truly enjoyed reading from his point of view and seeing the slight growth he experiences; foiling him against Casiopea made me love and appreciate her all the more.
Even at the start, Casiopea is a heroine primed for a journey she always hoped she’d have the opportunity to take but didn’t know how to see it through or what she was truly capable of. Her love of stars and constellations is a testament to more than just her name, also indicating her desire to explore what the world has to offer. She realizes she has simple dreams, but they seem so unattainable for a woman of her time. She wants to dance to fast jazz music, drive an automobile, go swimming at night–all things that women would be looked down upon as “loose” for pursuing. I love her simple dreams because once she starts to give them voice, she discovers she truly wants them and wants more for herself. What is that more? She doesn’t know, but at last she has the opportunity to discover for herself what she wants her life to be.
In a lot of ways, Casiopea reminds me of Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle, and that’s a high compliment. Those two would get along instantly, especially when it comes to not being afraid to tell off their magical boyfriends and doing what needs to be done. Like what happens with Sophie, Casiopea realizes the true power and influence she has within the narrative of her own story:
“Words are seeds, Casiopea. With words you embroider narratives, and narratives breed myths, and there’s power in myth. Yes, the things you name have power,” he said.
[…] They were quiet and they were foolish, both of them, thinking they were threading with any delicacy, and that if they somehow moderated their voices they’d stop the tide. 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. The silence was hopeless in any case, since something escaped the god, anyway: a sigh to match the girl’s own.
I don’t often highlight passages in books—I should—but I couldn’t pass this one up. It displays so much of what Gods of Jade and Shadow seeks to do and accomplishes with beauty and impact. The importance of words; the power of myth and stories; how even our most secret, hidden desires can make us yearn with no way to ignore or forget them. And then, there’s the unfulfilled pining between mortal and immortal, and isn’t it just [clenched fist] exquisite?
Other highlights of the book include meeting more entities of Mayan myth, Moreno-Garcia’s frightful yet beautiful take on Xibalba, and reading from Vucub-Kamé’s point of view. I adored this story from start to finish, from the social commentary to that bittersweet ending I’ll be carrying with me for awhile. Even just thinking about it, I don’t know what to do with myself. Moreno-Garcia’s writing has truly made me feel so many things that it’s hard to pick out one to commit to, and that’s such a wonderful thing because it shows how much her storytelling struck home.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is definitely not a book to leave on the shelf; much like Hun-Kamé’s bone shard in Casiopea’s hand, you deserve to obtain life and wonder from this story, just as it deserves to find a place within you.