Book Review – ‘Gods of Jade and Shadow’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Adult Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Publication Date: July 23rd, 2019
Word/Page Count: 352 pages (hardcover)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

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 requested this title because I’m addicted to the ‘powerful immortal & bold independent human girl’ dynamic and this is everything I hoped and wished for! This has ruined me for future books, I’m going to keep comparing them to how well that relationship was built up here!

Casiopea is a delightful heroine who may seem like a Cinderella analogue at first glance, but her personality is much more droll, snarky and aloof. She recognizes the injustice of her daily life of drudgery, slaving away for the promise of an inheritance far off in the nebulous future, but doesn’t have the means to change her circumstances.

She was bone-tired and Mother was constantly serving her a meal of platitudes instead of any significant answers or action. But there was nothing else to do but to accept this, to accept the punishment and carry on day after weary day. Casiopea went to sleep with her head full of quiet resentment, as she must.

This all changes when she daringly breaks into her grandfather’s treasured Mayan chest while the family is away on a monthly trip which Casiopea is barred from due to her spiteful cousin complaining about her. Instead of finding jewels or gold inside, she instead frees Hun-Kamé, the Supreme Lord of Xibalba, who had been imprisoned by his resentful brother so that he could take the throne. She also inadvertently creates a bond between them when a bone sliver lodges in her thumb, giving her a measure of his power and protection while opening a channel that feeds her life-force into Hun-Kamé. Very unfortunate, but it gives her the means, motive and opportunity to leave her miserable life behind and go on a quest with a god of death!

I love the way Hun-Kamé is depicted in this book. ❤ I was wary when I first started this book because I’ve been burned before with stories that supposedly have centuries old vampires, for instance, who then behave exactly like a modern-day bratty teenager and the incongruity drives me nuts. But with Hun-Kamé, you never forget that he is a death god and an ancient being of great power and influence, as his general demeanor and mannerisms, his lack of human morality plus inability to understand humor make this clear (I laughed quite a bit at moments where he didn’t understand Casiopea was joking, it was so endearing).

Death, she walked next to Death, and Death wore the face of a man. So she spoke to Death like a man, raised her voice to him, she might even defy him, but of course he was no man. She’d seen drawings of Death in dusty books. It was depicted as a skeleton, its vertebrae exposed, black spots on its body symbolizing corruption. That Death and Hun-Kamé seemed entirely different from each other, but now she realized they could be the same.

She glimpsed, for the very first time, the naked skull beneath the flesh. And if a god feared Death, should she not fear him too, rather than share oranges and conversation with him?

As Hun-Kamé starts off so detached and obviously inhuman, it makes his character growth over the course of the book more striking as Casiopea’s humanity feeds into him and changes him. Their relationship is the most beautiful thing I’ve read, I love how it went from reluctant-allies-of-mutual-convenience to Hun-Kamé winning over Casiopea despite herself because of his innate chivalry and consideration for her and Casiopea proving herself to be brave and resilient, impressing Hun-Kamé. And for two characters who are such polar opposites, they find camaraderie in being with one another after having been alone for so long and it makes my heart swoon.

Casiopea…focused on her chores instead of socializing. In her spare time, she looked to books or the stars for company. To have someone at her side was alien and yet a delight. There was a joy in the quest, now, the joy of her nascent freedom and his company.

The Lord of Xibalba did not smile often, and he did not laugh… That he smiled now was because he was dislocated, altered and altering, and due to the mortality creeping into his veins. But it was also because, like Casiopea, he had been alone for a very long time and found an amount of comfort in the company of another being.

I enjoyed the style of prose, which the author has explained in more detail here, although it won’t be for everyone. I often see comments from readers who say that they struggle to relate to the protagonist if it’s not in the first person point of view, which seems to be quite common in YA as it feels more ‘accessible’. Gods of Jade and Shadow is written in the third person omniscient point of view, so that unfortunately may be a bit alienating to some of the audience. However it is a deliberate storytelling choice by the author and works well as a framing mechanism because it gives an authentic air of a dark fairytale being told around a campfire and really emphasizes the mood that the book is aiming for. Personally I felt it added to the magic of the story and really liked the little flourishes that made it apparent this could be a new myth being passed down from one generation to another.

He walked to his throne room and sat on his massive obsidian throne. Vucub-Kamé pressed his fingers against the cold rock….he needed to feel the glasslike rock under his fingers, as if to assure himself it was there, it remained his, it would not vanish.

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

The setting was wildly original, I haven’t come across a book like this before set in 1920s Mexico, which was brought to life in glorious color and vibrancy with the chaotic hustle-bustle of the city streets, the overwhelming excitement of the Veracruz Carnival celebrations and incorporating all the related period details like flapper hairstyles and fashions, Prohibition and newness of contraptions like the train. Then the author elevated it to a whole other level through moments of dark ominous gloom in the realm of Xibalba with its barren grey deserts filled with the souls of tormented, its noxious swamps with skeleton birds and jungles filled with fearsome beasts. The rich language painted clear evocative images of the various locations depicted in this book and immersed me in every scene, keeping me completely mesmerized.


Pros: beautiful writing, courageous intelligent female protagonist, convincingly immortal death god, diverse characters and mythology, pitch-perfect ending

Cons: the writing style may not appeal to a wide range of readers

Personal Rating: 5 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.

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Disclaimer: I received a digital copy free from Quercus Book via Netgalley for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

6 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘Gods of Jade and Shadow’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

  1. Such a well thought out and beautiful review!! And you are right.., I’m one of those who couldn’t totally appreciate the style of writing, but still thought it was an enjoyable book 😊😊

    Like

  2. I’m squeeing at your description of the characters’ relationship because YES to polar opposite characters coming to understand and like each other! And you should totally give Certain Dark Things a try. Garcia is SO good about depicting paranormal/immortal beings from a fresh perspective. ❤

    Like

  3. Since reviews for this book started coming out, I have been under the impression that it is YA. I looked it up, however, and it’s not, which surprised me! I don’t know why I throw every fantasy book that isn’t about Very Serious Topics into the YA bin, but I need to stop doing that.

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