Casiopea has a life of drudgery in a small town in Yucatán state, Mexico, with no end in sight. There’s no hope that she will be able to get away from the family house, even after her awful grandfather (who Casiopea tends to because no one else will) dies. But on a day when everyone else is gone, Casiopea makes a strange discovery that offers her a way out—if she’s brave and strong enough to survive the adventure. Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, is a fantastic story that blends elements of the Popol Vuh with a 1920s Mexican setting, to make something that looks an awful lot like a new chapter in a legend.
Casiopea discovers a box in her grandfather’s always-locked closet, on a day when she’s alone in the house. When she opens the box, she discovers a pile of bones. She pokes them and accidentally embeds a shard of bone in her finger—which causes the bones to reassemble themselves and transforms into Hun-Kamé, the Supreme Lord of Xibalba. Casiopea has unwittingly step into a chapter of a story of betrayal and ambition. Hun-Kamé, he explains, was deposed by his brother. He needs to reclaim missing parts of himself that were not in the box in order to regain his place in the Underworld. Because of the shard, Casiopea has to go along if Hun-Kamé is to have any hope of succeeding. Oh, and if Casiopea doesn’t go, she’ll have to face her family and possibly die if Hun-Kamé dies.
Casiopea and Hun-Kamé’s quest for the rest of his body and his powers take them all over Mexico, from the Yucatán peninsula to Mexico City, to El Paso and then to Tijuana, where the book hits its outstanding climax in a stunning Art Nouveau/Mayan pyramid-inspired hotel and casino. In Hun-Kamé’s company, Casiopea discovers that there are a lot (for lack of a better word) creatures, witches, and wizards living in plain sight for those who know how to see. Casiopea had been told all her life that Mayan beliefs were just stories that need to be forgotten and that she should be a good, modest, obedient Catholic woman. Casiopea’s talents were clearly being wasted by her family. She was definitely meant to be a Mayan heroine.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is the kind of book that invites you in and then doesn’t let go until the last page. The plot races along and, in the brief breaks, we see a beautiful relationship develop between Casiopea and Hun-Kamé. This book was full of things I loved: remixing old legends, gorgeous setting I’ve never “visited” before, challenges that reveal a character’s inner strength, oodles of character growth. I sincerely hope that Moreno-Garcia writes more—not just adventures featuring Casiopea, but anything that is as interesting and vibrant as this book. I’m going to keep an eye out for Moreno-Garcia in the future.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley, for review consideration.