Review: “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The colors matched so I had to sit my happy ass down to get a photo.

“Mythmaking. It’s greater than you or I, this tale.”

Oh man. Where to begin with this one.

This book has taken me three days to read– and not through fault of its own, but because I am at the beach and between the sun and waves and general merriment of vacation, I stuck to reading this Gods of Jade and Shadows in the later hours of the night when I had time.

And the late hours of the night now seemed a perfect time to read it. 

This story is like sitting around a campfire in the desert, when the moon is high in the sky and the wolves are howling in the distance, and your cousin or grandmother decides to tell you a story that they were told when they were kids. It’s one full of magic and gods and death and life.

But I relate it to an oral story because throughout the first half of the novel, it felt like one being recited back to me, rather than living directly through the book. And, to be honest, it took me until the end of the book to decide that I really liked it that way. The story creeps up on you, starting slow and as sepia-toned as the dusty streets of Uukumil. But then as chapters pass and you meet countless gods and monsters, you’re transported into this vivid world of 1920’s Mexico, where the sun is hot and the world is changing. Essentially it’s like the first 25 minutes of Wizard of Oz and then the rest of the movie.

But let’s get to what the story is about. 

Casiopea Tun is a 1920s version of Cinderella. She lives with her dismissive family in a small town in Mexico, where she caters to the whims of her abusive grandfather and cousin. One day, while fetching something for her grandfather, she discovers an old box filled with bones. Eerie, right? Well the bones turn out to belong to Hun-Kame, the God of Death, who is none too thrilled that Casiopea’s grandfather aided in Hun-Kame’s overthrowal/murder by his younger brother. What sucks even more for Casiopea is, in freeing Hun-Kame, she has bound her life-force to him– essentially she grows weaker as he grows ‘stronger’– and the only way to save both of their lives is to go on a quest to defeat Hun-Kame’s brother, Vucub-Kame.

Needless to say, shenanigans ensue. (Hint: vengeful sorcerers, charismatic demons, monsters of unusual size, trips to the Underworld, and a semi-sociopathic cousin who Just. Won’t. Quit.)

Like I said before, it took me a long time to get through this story and I spent much of it on the fence on whether I liked it. The style was detached, Hun-Kame was kind of a dick, they didn’t have chemistry, Casiopea was really effing insecure– blah blah blah.

It was only at the end that I realized that everything I had been wary about in the beginning, everything I complained about, was all a purposeful element to the story to add to the emotional toll.

The beginning was detached because Casiopea was detached from life. We could literally feel her boredom eating away at her. She only began to really take an interest– I only began really taking an interest– as she broke free of her oppressive family. She is a wanderer at heart and it was a pleasure to watch her confidence and spirit grow as she distanced herself from the life she left behind.

Hun-Kame was kind of a dick because he was supposed to be. One of the kickers of the life force swap was that Hun-Kame started as a cold god, but grew more human from Casiopea’s essence. So he slowly, very slowly, became more human, more likable, more tolerable, as the book went on because he was very literally, becoming a human. He was humanizing himself for Casiopea, but losing himself in the process. It’s all very fascinating and tragic and satisfying.

The book is a slow burn in every sense of the world. The romance, the plot; you start out feeling detached and unsettled, and become engrossed in the magic the way the characters are. 

And there is so much magic! This book’s true gem is all of the magic that unfolds. Old Mayan mythology pops up on almost every page. Tales of bygone era Jazz Age Mexico litter the pages with pops of color and culture. 

The magic between Casipea and Hun-Kame doesn’t hurt either. Their story comes full circle and leaves you with a bittersweet smile tinged on your lips. You want the story to end one way, but it has to end the way it does and you don’t feel sad. You feel thrilled for the journey.

“Within that grey speck there lived his love and he gave it to Casiopea, for her to see. He’d fallen in love slowly and quietly, and it was the quiet sort of love, full of phrases left unsaid, laced with dreams.”

There is culture and life and spirit radiating off of the pages in this book. Well researched Mayan mythology and Mexican folklore; something which I will be the first to admit I knew nothing about. It was a breath of fresh air to be so completely transported from a tiny town in Florida to the vast, open Mexican jungles.

4/5.

Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3421650994

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