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.
After I finished Gods of Jade and Shadow, I gently placed the book down on my pillow, closed it shut, tucked the book into its rightful place in my bookshelf, and promptly sobbed my eyes out. Because I wasn’t kidding in the title – as a reader, one of my greatest pleasures (and in extension, my greatest heartaches) is finding books that change me forever; books that challenge what I know what it means to love and feel deeply, break down what I thought I knew, and then elevate me by showing me a new and profound understanding.
Gods of Jade and Shadow did that. It did that. And I am still reeling by the sheer magnificence of this book, the immaculate and deft storytelling, and the incredible journey that I’ve been on. Moreover, thinking about this book still makes my heart ache – because it is over and because it was just so perfect and heartrendering.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a historical fantasy – that reads so much like a dark fairytale – about a girl, Casiopea, who accidentally frees the spirit of a Mayan god of death. The god of death, Hun-Kamé, tells Casiopea this: help him recover his throne from his brother and he will give her whatever she desires. Fail, and it will mean her death. As the two embark on their adventure, unbeknownst to them is that the road before them will change them both forever.
I know I gushed about this book just now, but I feel the need to gush again: This book is so so good, reader. SO SO GOOD. It hit all the right spots for me: a story that feels like a tale as old as time, told with such ease and grace despite the heaviest weight of foreboding in between every word; one that follows two characters that go on a journey that not only takes them to great distances but when the distance between the two closes. (And if you love yearning between two characters, then the yearning in this book will make your heart explode as it did mine.) Nothing makes my heart ache more than a story where two strangers grow closer and closer as the journey progresses, eventually their existences becoming intertwined.
But here’s the thing that had my heart aching: The stakes in this book are so good. See (and without giving too much away), Casiopea’s journey depends entirely on Hun-Kamé’s success. Having been imprisoned for decades, Hun-Kamé draws life from the Casiopea’s blood and essence through the bone shard embedded in her thumb, thus binding the two in ways they will not anticipate. Though this book is indeed a ‘journey book’, if you love character-driven stories that immerse you into the characters’ motivations, their greatest fears, dares you to wish for them their tentative joys, and has fascinating antagonists, then I cannot recommend Gods of Jade and Shadow enough.
You’d think, then, that this story is centered entirely on how a girl’s life is irrevocably changed because she is swept in Hun-Kamé’s quest of godly revenge. Except, Gods of Jade and Shadow subverts that expectation. With every passing moment that Hun-Kamé draws from Casiopea’s life, he has to confront his growing humanness and mortality. Moreover, Casiopea, a very ordinary and human girl, changes Hun-Kamé’s life and redefines his immortal perspective and the stakes of their journey. And how this happens – slowly, gradually, and full of unexpectedly tender moments – feels like an honour to bear witness.
In between the dark and soft moments of their journey, Gods of Jade and Shadow takes the reader on an incredible journey from Yucatán to Veracruz, Mexico City, El Paso, and Baja California. The story is intertwined and influenced with Mexican folklore, and the storytelling elevates the worldbuilding and mythos by bringing out the best of two genres: historical fiction, hurtling the reader back into 1920’s Mexico, and fantasy, giving the story this compelling air of mystery and wonder. After reading this book, I want to read literally everything Moreno-Garcia has written because I want to just feel Moreno-Garcia’s storytelling – it’s just so rich and utterly mesmerising.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
I said it before, but I’ll say it again: I genuinely feel like Gods of Jade and Shadow changed me. The people anxiously waiting for me to finish this book, waiting for me to join in their heartbreak weren’t kidding – this book is just so incredibly good, so deeply affecting, and one of the most unique and memorable stories I’ve read. This book has my undying love – and you can bet I’ll be screaming about this book for years to come. A new favourite of 2020.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A girl accidentally frees an imprisoned god of death when she opens her grandfather’s treasure chest and is bound to help him reclaim his throne in the underworld.
Perfect for: Readers who love the blend of historical fiction and fantasy; readers who love stories influenced by mythology and/or folklore; readers who love to read about yearning and mortal-immortal relationships.
Think twice if: Readers who are easily turned off by stories with a slower pace and/or slower build-up.
Genre: adult historical fiction, fantasy
Trigger/content warning: animal death/sacrifice, blood mentions, graphic description of death and ritualistic sacrifice, graphic depiction of self-harm