Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Release date: 23rd July 2019 (US), 6th August 2019 (UK)
Publisher:  Del Rey (US), Jo Fletcher Books (UK)
Genre: Historical Fantasy, Mythology
Page count: 352
Goodreads: Here 


The Jazz Age is in full swing, but it’s passing Casiopea Tun by. She’s too busy scrubbing floors in her wealthy grandfather’s house to do anything more than dream of a life far from her dusty, small town in southern Mexico. A life she could call her own.
This dream is impossible, distant as the stars – until the day Casiopea opens a curious chest in her grandfather’s room and accidentally frees an ancient Mayan god of death. He offers her a deal: if Casiopea helps him recover his throne from his treacherous brother, he will grant her whatever she desires. Success will make her every dream come true, but failure will see her lost, for ever.
In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed only with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssy, from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City and deep into the darkness of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld.


For some reason, reading Gods of Jade and Shadow was quite reminiscent of Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief. A quest towards the Underworld? Check. A road trip going there? Check. An encounter with a mythical being on the way there? Check.

This time, though, Gods of Jade and Shadow has a god himself going along the ride. A god of death, at that. Come the shenanigans.

The Intersection of Change – Where Immortals and Mortals Meet

Moreno-Garcia wastes no time throwing us into the bare bones of the story: A disgruntled, mistreated girl accidentally knocks over a valuable object of her grandfather’s (the worst of them all!) and releases a Mayan god of death, our second lead, who offers big things should she succeed in aiding him on his quest of vengeance but notes that failure would see her demise. Also noted, her demise is guaranteed anyways if she doesn’t comply, since said god is linked to her and is gradually siphoning her essence to sustain his existence in a mortal world.

Partner of the year, folks.

She eventually opts in the quest, and from there the road trip begins. A lot of the interactions between Casiopea and Hun-Kamé bleed snark as a lively, spirited girl who happens to be quite embittered clashes against a somewhat detached, unscrupulous (formerly) divine being. They snipe at each other at the beginning, but they gradually realise each other’s importance for the quest and learn to work together. Not that it comes easy, though. A lot of the offerings taken in the journey (e.g. to call on the aid of the dead) are from Casiopea, so it begins as an all take and no give relationship – but the taxing sacrifices made slowly awakens Hun-Kamé’s compassion. Either that, or the mortal essence Cassiopea provides is slowly changing him. Any way, they begin to develop an attraction towards each other. Somehow, co-dependence turns into a relationship of mutual understanding (ish?), trust, and of course, attraction. The relationship reads as quite problematic for me due to the dynamics (ancient, divine being with a young woman? Totally screams power imbalance), but the slow-burn pace of the romance actually works, to my surprise. Both leads, while coming from different places, are also at the same place in their lives: a transition towards a big change. Casiopea discovering the full extent of her free-spirit, and Hun-Kamé  trying to adjust the person he used to be (cruel, arrogant, indifferent) with the person he wants to be after coming in contact with Casiopea’s mortal essence. Together, they accompany and aid one another in this process that they must go through in their life journey. This, however, leads to a somewhat bittersweet conclusion as both of them acknowledge that this romance was not meant to last as Hun-Kamé is an immortal being – and Hun-Kame pushes her towards living the life she just started to discover for herself during their quest.

I’ve got to admit, even I started feeling the passion in the third act, where their romance started to bloom.

Casiopea

Casiopea is the true heart of the story, as the book narrates the gradual awakening of her rebellious spirit in its true form. While mentioned a few times in the backstory, I started to see it in its fullest after she embarks on a journey with Hun-Kame. After spending quite a bit in her life swallowing down her contempt for her family with only little outbursts here and there, she blooms into a woman not willing to settle for scraps and perfectly willing to fight back without a care. Of course, this is a side that Hun-Kame actively encourages throughout their road trip.

She is also shown to be quite noble and caring even towards her enemies. When it comes to a choice between her initial objective of helping Hun-Kamé  return to his throne of Xibalba or a life with the Hun-Kamé she has come to love (a choice even Hun-Kame himself is all for, ugh my heart.), she chooses like a true hero and opts to aid Hun-Kamé  one last time despite the dangerous consequence of failure for she sees the true danger should she choose not do so. Although she isn’t quite as quick to forgive as to sacrifice herself to save the world, she is also quite willing to ask for her enemies to be spared. She may not speak much of it, but there is humongous compassion in her heart.

Of course, Casiopea isn’t afraid to fight dirty to get what she wants – as she comes up with a genius loophole to complete the quest in a way that is technically not counted as cheating, while it is definitely a questionable method.

All this comes down to Casiopea’s arc: Throughout the book, we see her being confronted with two choices. After forcing herself to settle for one over the other in every turn, at last she chooses to forge her own path just as she begins to carve out a new life beyond serving her family. Hun-Kamé  acknowledges this strength of hers, to the point he won’t have himself holding her back. Ugh, my heart. That ending.

Martin

Martin is a…. quite complicated antagonist to cover. While he is definitely a bully, I got to see his backstory – in which he struggles reconciling the vastness of the world outside the town where he reigns with his entitlement and narrow mind. It certainly does not help that he is raised amongst cold, unscrupulous people striving for power and power alone. Over the course of the story, he is gradually broken by the dilemma between the stakes of failure (mostly the grandfather’s wrath) and his complicated feelings about his cousin, who far outmatches him in all aspects but gender in a society that is built on patriarchy. This culminates in the unpacking of all his struggles and conflicted emotions as he meets Casiopea for what could be their last time seeing each other – and his start of journey towards his new self and if possible, forgiveness.

Hun-Kamé and Vucub-Kamé

Moreno-Garcia manages to construct a complex, layered relationship between the two sibling/rivals. While what Vucub-Kamé did was horrible, he had a reason as legitimate as Hun-Kamé does – for Xibalba’s wellbeing. Hun-Kamé, however, has a slight edge in that after his mortal adventures, he is more considerate of the mortal realm while Vucub-Kamé couldn’t care less as long as Xibalba thrives. This gets even murkier as Vucub-Kamé’s spite over a long time being cast in Hun-Kamé’s cruel and indifferent shadow is thrown into the equation.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, Gods of Jade and Shadow is a vivid, fast-paced, imaginative, and alluring novel about choosing your own path set on a time where such freedom is restricted. Moreno-Garcia perfectly balances the Mayan mythology (which I admit I know next to nothing about, so I’m quite grateful this is beginner-friendly) and Mexican traditions within a time and culture where discrimination is rampant and pre-conceived, limited expectations are abound. This narrative voice perfectly describes this world, and the characters are realised so well.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is actually also quite an interesting blend of styles. The narrative takes a very matter-of-fact approach, and very much sounds like a grandmother telling you a story, a folk tale. When the snark between the lead characters emerge, it breathes a humongous spark of life into the story. It’s a weird feeling, but it works somehow.

It’s actually quite hard to discern this book to one category because it’s such a perfect blend of Historical Fantasy, Myth, and Folklore. Moreno-Garcia is a talented writer who shows respect for the original sources and manages to construct a tale so alluring and magical. Gods of Jade and Shadow is a triumph in many forms.

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