As fate would have it, I ended up with two copies of Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s Gods of Jade and Shadows. I won an ARC through Goodreads initially, and then someone left a copy in the Little Free Library.
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.
Oh, I thought this was marvelous. And I don’t even think I realized, as I was reading it, how much I loved it. It is after all a bit on the slow side, with quite a lot of exposition. It was only in finishing it and looking back at the journey as a whole that I sighed in true contentment.
We’re given a strong, competent heroine who gets everything she wished for—if not in the way she imagined it—by doing the right thing in difficult situations. We have a villain who is recognizable and realistic. We have two gods and a whole cosmos of divinity that are inhumane but relatable. They are, after all, gods, not humans. We have a subtle romance based in the heart, not the loins. And the whole thing is steeped in shades and tones of oral history, as if this is a myth being told.
True, the sudden shift in Hun-Kame and Vucub-Kame’s attitudes at the end are jarring and hard to believe. But, as the book repeatedly reinforces, symbolism and myth-making are important. And the inner workings of gods, when influenced by the imagination of man is beyond the mundane.
And lastly, my favorite part is right at the end. I just need a chance to vocalize it because I’m having all the feel about it. But it’s a spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the book yet. Hun-Kame sent Casiopea a final gift, ostensibly the bag of black pearls he’d promised her. But I don’t actually think the pearls were the gift. He sent them via Loray and I think he’s the unspoken gift—a companion, someone worldly and open to usher and assist her in finding her feet in her new free world. And there is just something wonderful about that.