Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I would like to thank Jo Fletcher Books for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Jo Fletcher Books

Published – 18th July

Price - £16.99 hardback £4.99 kindle eBook

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but its 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 with only her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey, from the jungles of Yucatan to the bright lights of Mexico City and deep into the darkness of Xibalba, the Mayan underworld.

My relationship with myth has changed as I grown older. I used as a child to be more interested in the magic and the battles but as I’ve got older, I think what I find more fascinating is the fact that the gods, heroes and mysterious beasts all actually reflect human nature in their own personalities. They can represent both our best and worst traits at the same time. In this luxurious tale Silvia Moreno-Garcia provides a tale that reflects a young woman coming of age and at the same time shows that movement of seeing Gods as inhuman to reflecting ourselves back at us and remind us that humanity on a good day can do so much more.

In late twenties Mexico Casiopea Tun is forced to stay with her grandfather’s family and as she and her widowed mother are viewed as a family disgrace - forced into being unpaid servants. Casiopea must shine shoes and placate not just her bullying Grandfather but Martin her cousin who delights in antagonising her then bringing about the family wrath when she retaliates. Her future looks bleak. Confined to the family home one day she investigates a chest at the end of Grandfather’s bed; it reveals a set of bones and once touched the bones become a man who announces himself as Hun-Kame a Lord of Death (a Mayan Death God). He has been imprisoned for nearly fifty years when his twin brother Vucub-Kame usurped and imprisoned him. Hun-Kame if missing a hand, an arm and a powerful piece of magic that prevents him assuming his previous godhood sustained by a unique bond with Casiopea he announces they must now go across Mexico to find these items then take on his brother one more time.

It’s tempting when you initially start to read this novel to think it’s a much younger focused adventure as Casiopea even remarks to herself that her life as a servant resembles the start of the fairy-tale. But this is quite deceiving as the story progresses, we see a bigger more adult mythic palette reveal itself . This is a Mexico where ghosts are real and wish to feed on the living; witches can look to be florists and sorcerers can run hotels. Its much more a period urban fantasy as we see how the old myths have incorporated themselves into a world that doesn’t quite believe in them anymore. One aspect of this is the battle between Hun-Kame who feels the Gods must accept that for now they are no longer revered as they once were and Vucub-Kame who wants to bring about the return of temples and adulation. This really is a story where the future fate of the world depends upon the outcome.  For Casiopea she starts to realise that how women are treated varies across the country – in her home she is a girl forced to dress hiding herself under shawls and yet in the wider world she can see women enjoying showing themselves and she starts to realise she herself has her own beauty and confidence that back home is viewed as a sin in itself

Garcia-Moreno however puts the relationship between Casiopea and Hun-Kame at the heart of the novel. Initially Casiopea is depicted as a strong-willed woman perhaps prone to disagree on principle with a command while Hun-Kame is an aloof almost dispassionate god who views humans as tools or pets. However partly due to their bond (Hun-Kame must feed on Casiopea’s mortality to live) but due to their interactions they learn from each other. The god must start to see there is more to life than endless games for power and Casiopea starts to realise that despite the claims of her family she is an intelligent strong woman who can do so much more than polish their shoes. There is a beautiful ongoing theme of looking above the world and at the wider stars.  These two characters learn to go beyond their enforced boundaries, and they realise they can do so much more and ultimately that their relationship is far more than just to succeed in a quest together. Garcia-Moreno makes scenes dancing and just standing in the sea talking under a night sky just as powerful as tackling ghosts in an eerie darkened room By the end of the story we are in a  true epic race against time in the land of the dead known as Xibalba where a Black Road tries to confuse and destroy the wanderers upon it. A great fantasy myth with lots of heart and as all the best myths have a romance.

The other major plus is Garcia’s writing. I’ve now read several of her work and she is a compelling writer with a beautiful eye for character and using the depiction of the world around to echo the story. Here 1920’s Mexico really comes alive as a place most European readers will be unaware of such as hotels where Pancho Villa shot the walls to the mythic land of the dead where bird skeletons and jaguars roam.  I think this really opened my eyes up to Mexico’s recent and more ancient history and it’s a place that clearly blends all its histories into its current form.

This is an extremely impressive tale that immerses me in an epic quest and journey of discovery for two very different yet both powerful people who need the other to find themselves. I liked that a key theme here is learning from each other and that revenge while attractive is not always going o be the best answer. Humanity here is just as important as ancient magic. It is a truly spell bounding tale reminding me a lot of N K Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms with its treatment of gods.  With a slight hint that further adventures could await I would be very happy to explore this wider world of myth hinted at.  A beautifully brilliant story.