A friend got me a Book of the Month subscription for my birthday and I often struggle to choose between each month’s options. July, however, was a no-brainer. As I texted my mom (who also has a subscription), “So obviously my pick is Jazz Age + Mayan mythology.”
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia tells the story of Casiopea Tun, a young woman living on charity in her grandfather’s house. Her wealthy family looks down on her due to her mother’s scandalous marriage and her half-Indian father and appearance. Casiopea spends her days doing chores for the household, waiting on her grandfather, and attempting to avoid her odious cousin Martín.
But Casiopea’s life takes an unexpected turn when she opens a trunk in her grandfather’s bedroom and revivifies the Mayan death god, Hun-Kamé, and ignites a long-standing feud between him and his twin brother, Vucub-Kamé. Casiopea and Hun-Kamé, their lives now entwined, go on a quest that takes them throughout 1920s Mexico and into the Southwestern US.
Why did I love this book?
For one, it expands the genre of mythology-brought-to-life or reimaginings of ancient tales with its Mayan basis and Mexican setting. Representation matters, ya’ll, and it was lovely to travel with a heroine who is both unique and universal.
Second, Gods of Jade and Shadows cleverly embeds history into its plot. As Casiopea and Hun-Kamé travel through Mexico, the book gives a snapshot of that moment in time in each city or location they stop in. The novel educates its readers on post-revolution Mexico and gives a sense of a country attempting to find itself between modernity and history, and between what is happening in the rest of the world and what is particular to itself.
Last, the book leans into its 1920s setting with Art Deco structures, bob cuts, and the thrill of automobiles. But it also gestures to the shallowness of fetishizing that style over the substance of a human life.
Oh, and did I mention the epic, world-endangering clash between Mayan death gods and the humans caught in the middle? Moreno’s novel is smart but also a lot of fun. Strong recommend.