Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-García
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 am going to do my best to not be a blubbering mess while writing this review. I received a review copy from Jo Fletcher books because I begged to be able to read before publication, but I have the Goldsboro edition ordered (hopefully it will arrive soon) and had preordered a finished copy too (nope, I wasn’t dying to read it, I promise).
So why did I want to read this book so much? Because it is a) own voices, b) México, c) Mayan gods. And it is set in the 1920’s, which is just after the Revolution so it is a country beaming with change and opportunities but also aching in some ways.
There are Latinx books showing more and more, but there are very few fantasy books like this one out there (or the ones I know of are in Spanish and for me, expensive to get unless I go to México).
From the very beginning, Casiopeia’s México is in a way my México, a slightly older and more frayed around the edges, but it is very much the one my greatgrandmother lived in (who was alive during the Revolution and told stories about living through it). Where it stops is that in this story, the Mayan gods are more than just words, they take flesh (I mean I have never seen this happen so I will leave this to fantasy but there are stories of different gods becoming human for a while).
It was an utter delight to read this, the way the mythology becomes reality blends with how México is in general, into the beautiful parts of it and also sometimes into the not so pretty ones too. I’ve been to most of the places Casiopeia goes (except her home town) so it was like taking a trip myself and reliving that, but almost at the same time as time travel.
One of the things this book does perfectly is to display Mexican culture in the way the characters interact. Casiopeia is 100% the real deal, and not a make believe of a Mexican. For example, in the quote above, she’s saying a “sorry” that doesn’t exist in English. In Spanish it is “lo siento mucho”, which is literally “I feel this so much” and it is to convey empathy to say “I am sad for you, I hurt with and for you”. Because at the core, we care. Family, friends, caring, food, they are central to who we are. And you can see that through the whole book.
And this book made me cry. I don’t cry much with books, but I was bawling my eyes out near the end, because it had just dug in deep into me.
I think if you are intrigued by Mayan mythology/gods, México and its culture, and fantastical stories, you should definitely read this. All the characters show different aspects of life in such a country and this is a wonderful representation of it.
I literally want everyone to read this book and then re-read it, and then talk about it and go visit México and each place Casiopeia and Kun-Kamé visit.