Photo and article by Edith Bachmann
In the glam and mystery of 1920s Mexico, a young woman embarks on a road trip with a god of death to exact revenge on his brother. Or so goes the dazzling novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It tells the story of Cassiopeia, a young woman who has lived a difficult life marked by bullying from her older cousin and abuse from her grandfather. She seeks solace in the astronomy books that remind her of her late father and the hope of one day moving to a city far away. Her life is turned upside down, however, when she accidentally releases Hun-Kamé, a god of death who has been locked up for many years. Now, it seems that Cassiopeia’s dream of getting far away is coming true, but she never imagined that her trip would be made with a Mayan death god seeking revenge on his brother. What results is a fabulous book that takes its readers on a journey through Mexico and the underworld, featuring magic and an epic slow burn romance.
In the novel, Silvia Moreno-Garcia tells the story through omniscient narration. This point of view sometimes jeopardizes the air of mystery in other books, but Moreno-Garcia incorporates it masterfully. Moreno-Garcia is able to offer an inside look into each of the characters’ heads, from the bold Cassiopeia to the ruthless Vucub-Kamé. What’s more, each character has a unique and engaging personality, but Moreno-Garcia is wise not to juggle too many characters and risk confusing the reader. This brings us to the characters in the novel. For the most part, the main characters are fairly likable, and when they are not likable, the reader is at least able to understand their motivation and point of view. For example, we are introduced to Vucub-Kamé and understand how his ambition and envy of his ruling twin brother drove his actions.
The thoughtfully created characters are paired with the fantastic setting. While 1920s America has received a lot of love in literature and film, 1920s Mexico is not a setting that readers get to experience often. This book is very unique in that sense. It looks at Mexico in the past as it underwent significant cultural changes following the Mexican Revolution; yet, Moreno-Garcia also seamlessly incorporates supernatural and magical elements into her work. This is what sets the book apart from your typical historical fiction story. Arkady Martine was right when she said, “It dazzles, instead, showing the reader a world that seems entirely inevitable, a Mexico of the 1920s that would naturally be infused with Precolumbian magic” in her review of the book for NPR.
Overall, I would highly recommend that readers in the mood for romance, revenge, and magic pick up this book from their local library today.
If you like Gods of Jade and Shadow, you might like:
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylo (Fantasy, romance, features gods and humans)
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Historical fiction, 1920s setting)
Circe by Madeleine Miller (Mythological elements)