Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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.

Gods of Jade and Shadow had my full attention the very moment I became aware of its existence. The blurb promised so many beautiful and enjoyable things, and I’m very happy to say that the book delivered.

In this coming-of-age story, Casiopea is a Cinderella-like figure: her mother’s family is treating her like a maid, while she’s dreaming of cars and dancing. It’s the Jazz age in Mexico and she’s restless and angry. So, when an arrogant God of Death enters her life and needs her in a quest to regain his power and defeat his treacherous brother, she’s on board (she also doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter, but she’s mostly excited about the adventure).

And what an adventure it is! A rags-to-road-trip-with-a-god journey, that takes them through post-revolution Mexico, with all the changes and uncertainty it entails. This mirrors Casiopea’s own internal quest towards growth and self-discovery.

Casiopea is such a compelling character. She’s proud and determined but also, in a lot of ways, still a wide-eyed young girl who’s lost and overwhelmed. Funnily enough, it’s a similar kind of duality we find in Hun-Kamé, the God of Death. Inoculated with a sliver of humanity that dulls his powers, his haughtiness and majesty are soon mixed with fluster and uncertainty.

Sparks fly between these two, a sometimes touching, sometimes stirring, other times hilarious give-and-take between an entitled immortal and a spine-of-steel mortal. I love how Moreno-Garcia wrote their relationship. It’s a tricky trope to pull off – the natural imbalance of power between a human and a God can make it extremely problematic, but it’s not at all the case here.

The quest takes them all across Mexico, and we get to see the country buzzing with energy. But hovering over the celebrations and the glamour of the Jazz age, there’s the stench of colonialism – and its legacy of classism and racism. I’m looking forward to reading what own-voice bloggers have to say about this aspect of the story. As someone from a country that has known centuries of European influence in one form or another, I recognised some common colonialism “leftovers”. It was subtle, and deftly presented.

I knew nothing of Mayan myths before picking up the book. Not to reduce these stories, characters, symbols to a question of aesthetics, but it honestly captured my imagination in Gods of Jade and Shadow. The harsh and cruel beauty of Xibalba, Hun-Kamé’s domain, in particular, was enthralling to read about.

I also loved how the antagonists of the story had understandable (albeit hardly laudable) motives. Greed and pride, fear of irrelevance – no agents of random chaos here. Their arcs are often as engrossing to follow as the protagonists’.

There’s so much to love in this story, and I have no doubt a lot of readers are going to enjoy it as much as I did. It is released on July 23rd. My heartfelt thanks to Jo Fletcher Books for the review copy! It was truly a fantastic read.

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