I’m very excited to participate in my first Blog Blast Tour and I’m even more excited that it is for this book – Gods of Jade and Shadow – which is a super retelling of Mayan mythology set in 1920s Mexico with the most pragmatic protagonist.
The Jazz Age is in full swing, but it’s passing Casiopea Tun by. She’s too busy scrubbing floors in her wealthy grandfather’s house to do anything more than dream of a life far from her dusty, small town in southern Mexico. A life she could call her own.
This dream is impossible, distant as the stars – until the day Casiopea opens a curious chest in her grandfather’s room and accidentally frees an ancient Mayan god of death. He offers her a deal: if Casiopea helps him recover his throne from his treacherous brother, he will grant her whatever she desires. Success will make her every dream come true, but failure will see her lost, for ever.
In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed only 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 Xibalba, the Mayan underworld.
Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publication Date: 23rd July 2019
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus
First, the protagonist, Casiopea Tun, is fantastic. Perhaps a little bit too proud, a little bit too arrogant, but she is pragmatic, focused and plucky, without feeling like she has been constructed just for the reader. She is also the perfect counterpoint to Hun-Kamé, a Maya death god and once Lord of Xibalba (the Mayan underworld), whom she accidentally releases from captivity.
The growing respect between these two characters from very different backgrounds is actually quite beautiful, and I loved the emphasis on Hun-Kamé gradually developing his own mortality – whether by choice, or by his own connection to Casiopea.
The counterpoint to these two are Martín, Casiopea’s cousin, and Vucub-Kamé, Hun-Kamé’s twin brother, who had deposed his brother and is now Lord of Xibalba. Neither of these two are ‘villains’ in a traditional sense, but are almost caught up in trying to carve out their own story amongst the rivalry between the each pair. Much of Mayan mythology is based around pairs or twins, and Casiopea and Martín are the mortal counterpoint to this. Even better, Casiopea later wonders whether she has been paired up with the ‘right’ god based on the disatisfaction that she experienced at home – it was great for a character to actually question their loyalties.
The setting; 1920s Mexico. I loved reading about the contrast between Casiopea’s isolated village comapred to the bubbling energy of the more modern metropoleis that they visited. And as Casiopea and Hun-Kamé travel across Mexico, they encounter creatures and sorcerers from Mayan myths, living amongst mortals. This had a very Gaiman-esque feel and I really enjoyed it.
On the downside – the travel between places was very much driven by the story. There were no choices presented or autonomy for the characters (except for the ultimate choice). This did feel quite ‘led’ but does fit in perfectly with storytelling tradition, where it makes perfect sense for each character to continue to follow the story.
Moreno-Garcia’s writing style is both flowery and straightforward. There is no messing around when talking about the mortals, their motivations and experiences, and, in true storyteller fashion, she often steps away from the story at the end of each chapter, to write something poetic and beautiful. That technique worked really well for me and reminded me of A.S. Byatt’s modern fairy tales.
Overall, I loved reading about mythological characters that were new to me, in a setting that was so energetic and exciting. I didn’t quite know how this would all end and was very pleased with how it did end – a pragmatic Casiopea would want nothing less.
A happy 4.5 stars rounded to 5.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and Jo Fletcher Books in exchange for an honest review.