Book review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publisher: Del Rey

Publication date: 23 July 2019

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Rep: All Mexican cast

Page extent: 338 pages

Rating:

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.

It’s my first review of 2021, and it’s for a really spectacular book! It is no surprise I went into Gods of Jade and Shadow with extremely high expectations. Mexican Gothic was my favourite book of 2020 and I wanted to fall in love this as much as I did with Mexican Gothic. Suffice to say: I definitely did. Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of the most exciting authors writing today. Her ability to write across so many different genres is outstanding, and with another THREE book releases coming in 2021, I can’t wait to explore more of her work.

Gods of Jade and Shadow follows Cassiopeia, a young, rural woman in 1920s Mexico who lives with her grandfather and is pretty much treated as the household servant, bullied by her cousin and aunts. But then she accidentally awakens the Mayan God of Death, Hun-Kamè, and she finds herself caught up in an adventure. She and Hun-Kamè must race against time to collect the pieces of himself lost across Mexico before he sucks dry her energy, killing her and turning himself mortal in the process.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia has some of the best worldbuilding in fantasy. She has such a fantastic ability to perfectly describe a scene so that you can almost hear, smell and see the scenes yourself. From the bustle of Mexico City, to the desert city of El Paso, each place Cassiopeia and Hun-Kamè visit is so perfectly rendered in my mind thanks to her beautiful writing. It was such a wonderful world to be caught up in, full of pieces of Mayan history and lore. The creatures, demons, witches, gods, that Cassiopeia and Hun-Kamè meet on their journey are also pulled from Mayan culture. It was just so fun to learn about all these creatures, to hear about the mythology behind Xibala, the land of the dead and which Hun-Kamè is trying to win back from the brother who betrayed him.

Cassiopeia is such a brilliantly written character. She is so clear and certain as to who she is: at times she is a little naive and young, as you would expect given her upbringing. But she’s also so full of curiosity, has such a strong sense of adventure and desire for more, and she has such a lovely heart. I do love a villain, I love a good morally grey character, but I found Cassiopeia such a breath of fresh air. She has such a sense of goodness about her that I really loved, she is so kind – she does, after all, fight for Hun-Kamè the entire novel, and even though she is dying the longer she stays bonded with him, her death is not the reason why she is fighting for him.

I also was a huge fan of their slow burn romance. I mean, come on, falling for the god of death is exactly the kind of fantasy romance I love! I really appreciated the way we saw Hun-Kamè’s descent to humanity through his interactions with Cassiopeia. The longer they stay bonded, the closer Cassiopeia comes to death, but the closer Hun-Kamè comes to being mortal. And his journey to mortality is clearest when we see him with Cassiopeia. We see him turn from this distant, grateful but stilted newly awoken God, to someone who is as overwhelmed by Cassiopeia’s kindness as I am. The two fall beautifully for each other, and as a reader who NEVER CRIES AT BOOKS, I was close to tears at several moments near the end of this book when the two of them have some really beautiful, touching moments together. And speaking of endings, THAT ENDING!! Oh my god, I loved it. It was so perfect for this book, bittersweet but hopeful.

Also, I have a completely personal pet peeve about fantasy novels. Some authors spend too much time focussing on showing basic necessities being met during a journey (food, bathroom, sleep etc) in order to make it feel realistic, but of course, that is often very boring. But then others do it too little and it just feels rushed and unrealistic because like…when do people eat on this adventure?! But Silvia Moreno-Garcia struck the absolute perfect balance between showing realistic necessities of a journey (they even carry suitcases with clothes!) but without dwelling on it too much to make the book boring. So that just added to my love for this book. I know it’s such a weird pet peeve but it makes me so happy when I see authors do it well!

So basically this book is brilliant. It is dark at times, exploring love and sacrifice and gods hellbent on destroying Cassiopeia and Hun-Kamè. But it is also really hopeful, led by this kind and beautiful person in Cassiopeia and I think Silvia Moreno-Garcia really wrote such a brilliant relationship between her and Hun-Kamè. I’m going to be reading absolutely everything Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes forevermore.

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