Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.

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.

Casiopea Tun lives with her family and serves their every whim in a Cinderella-like scenario. This is because she’s considered a “lesser” member of the family due to her gender and her parentage. Things soon change for Casiopea, when she stumbles upon a family secret and unleashes a Lord of Xibalba, who was dethroned by his power-hungry brother. This leads Casiopea to go on an adventure to help the Lord reclaim his throne, otherwise, she’ll die. With her life on the line, she must be quick whilst cautious, as those who don’t want her to succeed are hot on her heels and are ready to play dirty.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a fantasy story full of Maya mythology, that explores the nature of familial structures and relationships, and ultimately about discovering oneself in the wider world.

This book just didn’t manage to capture magic for me.  I felt the story was missing something – a connection between it and me as the reader – which persisted near enough to the story’s end.  I felt I was enduring a bland read up until 60%, which by that point, the story picked up in excitement, and I wanted to know how it ended.

I didn’t feel the characters were engaging.  Casiopea is likeable, but she’s not loveable nor memorable as a character by herself. The same goes for the rest of the ensemble.  I didn’t care about any of their endings, because a reader-characterisation relationship simply didn’t exist between the characters and I.  Their personalities weren’t explored (independent of the journey they were on) in any great depth for me to connect with them.  The Gods – HunKame and VucubKame – were portrayed as cold characters, thereby making their likeability rather low.

Additionally, I found it difficult to get behind the book’s romance. I don’t even know where to begin without spoiling the plot.  I disliked it because it felt forced by the author, and I just kept thinking:
“Why on God’s earth would a girl be attracted to somebody harming her?”
I felt the portrayal of the characters didn’t align with their sudden feelings for each other.  It just didn’t make sense. Why would this girl be attracted to somebody who is so cold, like the rest of the men in her life? Who’s ready to put her in harms way? To me, it read as if she had feelings for him because she thought he was handsome, which wasn’t the character I felt the author was trying to illustrate.
And then there was the concern that their budding feelings was actually autonomous. In a nutshell, the romance just didn’t work or make sense for me.

The most interesting aspect for me was the discussion of oppression within Casiopea’s family.  She was considered the runt of the family and was expected to serve the men, and any women considered above her.  I really liked the author’s alternating perspectives between Casiopea and her cousin, Martin, as they each illuminated the way the structure of their family made them see themselves e.g. Martin was extremely entitled and felt Casiopea’s place was beneath him, and he was outraged whenever she challenged this or outright defied him.  Admittedly, this exploration of a family controlled by a patriarch’s dominance over its women and lesser family members was the story’s best feature.

The setting of this story was good, especially the Underworld with the Black Road and all its creatures, which all felt otherworldly. These were illustrated very well, and have undoubtedly educated me more in the subject of Maya mythology, which I thoroughly loved reading about.

Overall, I read this within a week and I’m rating it 3 stars due to my enjoyment of the mythology and exploration of oppression within families.  The climax definitely brought this read back from the brink of a lower rating, but I’m still disappointed that this wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be.  I would recommend this to anyone wanting to read a fantasy story laced with Maya mythology, but other than that, I’m sorry to say I wouldn’t rush to recommend this.

 

Buy It Now

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: fantasy
Publication: July 2019

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*Thank you kindly to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an e-copy of this, in exchange for this honest review.


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