Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Jo Fletcher Books, 2019.
Audio version available on Audible.
Mayan Gods, the Jazz Age in Mexico and a downtrodden young woman finding her voice and her strength in a world which is more full of magic than she ever thought.
Casiopea lives thanks to her family's generosity. Though the word "generosity" isn't exactly right since they use her as their maid and her young cousin would benefit from a punch in the face considering how he treats her. But one night, Casiopea helps the god of death, Hun-Kamé, to escape from the chest he was locked in. She's now on a quest with him, so that he can reclaim his throne.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is the coming-of-age story of Casiopea. Though I'm not too fond of that kind of stories, Casiopea was an endearing character and I found myself quite drawn in by her struggles. And she faces a lot. She not only has to evade her cousin's insistence that she comes back home and go back to scrubbing floors instead of gallivanting away, and her own worry at what people will think of her. But she also has to help the god of death and navigate through a world of witches and supernatural threats.
Hun-Kamé, the god of death, left me a bit cold. I admire the fact that Moreno-Garcia boldly chose to represent him as different from humanity, often aloof. But in the end, it felt to me that he didn't entirely deserve Casiopea's interest for him.
The rest of the characters, apart from the despicable cousin, are nothing more than a few brushstrokes, but they are all very flamboyant in their own ways.
The story is mostly a road trip, from a backwater little village, to cities, and, in the end, maybe, to Xibalba, the city of death. It offers a wonderful glimpse into a busy world.
This is probably what remained the most with me: how Moreno-Garcia made this world alive, in particular the cities, with their energy.
Gods of Jade and Shadow uses well-known mythological and folk tales templates: what a Westerner would identify as a Cinderella story, gemellity and sibling rivalry, a quest and champions to be tested. It certainly follows the templates, but it makes them its own. First because everything is steeped in Mayan mythology--with interesting theological questions regarding Christian mythology too--which is far too absent from traditionally published novels in the English speaking world. Second, because Moreno-Garcia is a remarkable writer and she makes you care for the characters evolving within the templates.
There's a romance aspect to the novel. Though pretty much central to the characters' development, it isn't the main goal of the story. The characters are more looking for their right place in this world (or the other), which is something that I appreciated.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a great, entertaining story. It'll effortlessly take you to another time, another place, with magic and improbable characters, in vibrant cities. A perfect book to read at the end of a long, tiring day.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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