Release Date: July 23, 2019
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Historical Fantasy
“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.”
Gods of Jade and Shadow has been high on my list since I first heard about it earlier this year. Through my love of short speculative fiction, I was already aware of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s immense talent, so I knew going in that this book would be excellent. And of course it lived up to my high expectations.
The story is familiar even as the setting is not. The Jazz Age – basically the 1920s up to the stock market crash on October 29, 1929 – doesn’t get much airplay in genre fic, and I have certainly never read any OwnVoices speculative fiction set in Mexico in that era. Moreno-Garcia sinks the reader into this lavish and chaotic world with ease. Recently I reviewed The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey, and Gods of Jade and Shadow strikes a similar chord when it comes to pushing back against white/Western stereotypes informed by racism and highlighting the diversity of a nation often flattened and homogenized by colonizers and invaders. This Mexico rejects stereotypes and demands to be seen for what it is. Many people are desperate and destitute, but the country isn’t hopeless or pathetic. There is life and happiness and creativity. It isn’t just one thing but a cacophony of differences and identities and cultures and traditions.
As for the plot, it’s engaging and exciting. Casiopea is immediately compelling. She’s the kind of character I’d love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with. Because she’s 16 one might be tempted to label this novel young adult, but it definitely isn’t. This is an adult story for an adult audience (although there is plenty of crossover appeal). Even before getting entangled in the sibling rivalry between Lords of Xibalba Hun-Kamé and Vucub-Kamé, she endures hardships no teenager should have to face and comes through it with her wits and strength intact. Moreno-Garcia follows Casiopea and Hun-Kamé from the heart of the Yucatán all the way to Baja California, ramping up the stakes of the quest with each stop along the way.
Gorgeously written and intensely felt, Gods of Jade and Shadow is the must-read fantasy novel of the summer. I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t love about it. If I wasn’t already a fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, this would’ve cinched it. Publishers: give me more historical fantasy set in Latinx nations and with Latinx and Indigenous characters! One book isn’t nearly enough.
Casiopea stirred her coffee while he ran a finger around the rim of his glass. The table they were sharing was so small that if she moved a tad forward she might bump her elbow with his or knock his glass to the floor. Others had come earlier and secured bigger tables, and now they were playing dominoes.
“How will we find the Mamlab? Where is he?” she asked.
“The Huastec people are cousins to the Mayans, and their gods are cousins of mine. The Mamlab are not one god, but several.”
“Loray spoke as though he was referring to one.”
“Oh, he is referring to one. The Mamlab live in the mountains, where they play music, drink, and make love to their frog wives. But some of them venture into town to partake in festivities and seduce enticing women. And the youngest, he is more insolent than the rest, and that cousin of mine has my ear.”
She knew of Chaac, who carried his stone axe and beat the clouds to release the rain. And there was the Aztec Tlaloc, with his heron-feather headdress, but the Mamlab she did not recall.
“And he, this god, he has a name, then?”
“The Mam is called Juan,” Hun-Kamé said laconically, sipping his coffee.
Thanks to Silvia Moreno-Garcia for sending me a review copy.