The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this 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.
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Mythmaking. It’s greater than you or I, this tale.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a charming and genuine tale of mortal fragility and the importance of a life lived well. This beautiful historical fantasy blended with mythology by Silvia Moreno-Garcia touches upon the concepts of the pain of jealousy and resentment, and how the promise of power and riches means nothing to those seeking the heart’s truest desire – freedom. Readers are swept along on an adventure throughout Mexico and the southern United States in a race for retribution, the path fraught with hardships, all while the fate of all hangs in the balance. Strong characters, alluring worldbuilding, and pristine writing, this book is the uplifting fairytale we’ve been waiting for.
Moreno-Garcia’s carefully crafted characters take center stage in this journey of self-discovery, with an underlying theme of duality laced throughout. Casiopea Tun, a strong heroine that conquers her fears, diving head first into the unknown in a journey to unearth the truth that lies within. Hun-Kamé, a Death God betrayed seeking vengeance, but instead gains pieces of humanity along his arduous pilgrimage. A cousin and brother full of pain and spite, attempting to remake the world to their benefit; this venom their inevitable downfall. The thing I appreciated most was witnessing this narrative from all sides. Readers aren’t forced to see through the eyes of just ‘the good guys’, but introduced to the how’s and why’s of the antagonists, as well, with plenty of empathetic cultivation along the way. There is a romantic element to this tale, but it’s subtle and organic and slow-burn. It’s beautiful.
There she was, the girl, accompanying Hun-Kamé, and it could mean she was nothing, strictly an ordinary girl with ordinary thoughts and the weak flesh of all things that will die. or she could be something else.
Readers are immediately transported into 1920s Yucatán, a land straddling two worlds – the old and the new. Ancient magics of Mayan mythology flow throughout, but the old gods fade as the people embrace fresh ideals. We travel from the quaint village of Uukumil throughout varied and diverse locations, each accompanied by an introduction with worldbuilding exposition to set the stage for what’s about to come. Colors, textures, sounds, weather, all the lovely little details included to immerse the reader further. Moreno-Garcia then introduces Xibalba, the underworld and home of the Jade Palace, mystical and haunting in equal measure. The thoughts and beliefs of men created this world, the fear of death and the unknown warping this place into a labyrinth of curiosities and horrors. This is one of those stories where every little detail serves a purpose, creating a grand tapestry to admire.
The writing of Gods of Jade and Shadow itself is near perfect. A modern fairytale told in an almost whimsical prose, weaving a world and its inhabitants in a way that completely draws you in. If I had to describe this story in one word it would be charming – while the incredible tension hints at danger lurking around each and every corner, there’s a comfort to be found while losing yourself within the pages. Anecdotes and pieces of poetry peppered throughout, this is definitely one that reminds readers to slow down and appreciate the small things life has to offer. The story does start out a bit slow, but once we embark on our adventure, the peril is only suspended by tender moments exquisite self-reflection and transformation.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a wondrous exploration of the depths of the heart, and what it truly means to live and love. We are by design flawed, but there’s a profound courage sheltered within us all to guide us along the path of life and beyond. This book has been on my radar for quite some time, and I truly regret waiting this long to finally crack open the front cover, which is stunning by the way. I adore this book, and have fallen in love with what lies upon its pages. If you’re looking for a comfort read that easily draws you into the familiar yet unfamiliar, then this is definitely the book for you. I highly recommend.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of several novels, including Gods of Jade and Shadow. She has also edited a number of anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters). Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination.