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.
When I read about this one, I immediately knew I wanted to read it. I was extremely luck to get an e-ARC on NetGalley too! A book that’s awash with Mayan folklore in 1920s about a girl who has suffered a lot in her life but is swept away on an adventure like nothing she’s imagined in her life.
The book starts with Casiopea working for her family, her mother hoping for the money that her father promised her to start a new life for the both of them and a family which has no plans to release the mother and daughter into the world. Casiopea’s father was a dreamer and a lover of myths and folklore, he died almost penniless and that’s how Casiopea ended up in the situation she’s in at the beginning of the book. It all sounds rather Cinderella-esque but somehow while I was reading it, it all felt rather real and plausible. Isn’t that the worst feeling?
Casiopea dreams of earning enough money & leaving the whole family behind to live freely one day but while she’s with her relatives, she suffers verbal abuse from her grandfather and her cousin. However all that changes when she opens an old, forbidden chest and releases the God of Death into the world.
She’s tied to the god because her depends on his continued survival and vice versa. That’s how the journey into the unknown starts for Casiopea, a quest for revenge for the God of Death and a chance for Casiopea to see a little more of the world. The author really worked wonders in showing the times and the culture of Yucatan in the 1920s. It isn’t just a retelling of Death and the Maiden, it is more seeing the political and more importantly social reality of the times, of the lack of agency young women faced everywhere. How there were certain ideas about people and if they didn’t fit in, their lives were made infinitely harder in many ways. Casiopea’s own struggle with her religion and her acceptance / opening up of her own mind to a far wider and wilder world was such a treat to read.
There’s all sorts of people she meets while she’s on her quest, there are demons, ghosts, gods, witches, powerful and strange beings. And it is all amazing to read about. My knowledge of the Mayan folklore is rather limited but it didn’t hinder me here. Initially I looked up the gods and the general folklore but then started getting my answers within the plot narratives and that was brilliantly done. IT’s not just the magical writing and the amazing folklore that makes this book, it’s the character growth and depth of not only Casiopea but also her cousin and his complexity that made this one a hit for me. To say nothing of the God of Death, he was so wonderfully written and I really started to appreciate the way he was written as the plot progressed.
Overall, this is a book for you if you like mythology and folklore, if you truly appreciate solid characters with depth and growth and amazing writing in general. I couldn’t put it down and I hope you find it hard too.