Gods of Jade and Shadow
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Expected publication date: July 23rd, 2019, by Del Rey
Though the fairytale retelling is a popular trend among current fantasy authors, most of those fairytales are based upon European stories such as Snow White or Cinderella. Too few authors have delved into the wealth of folktales from the rest of the world. With her new novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia bucks this trend and tells a tale based upon Mayan folklore using the language of fairytales.
Casiopea Tun is part of a wealthy family, but she does not benefit from this wealth. Her father, a poet and dreamer, was not approved by Casiopea’s imperious grandfather and when he died, Casiopea and her mother were taken in as servants. Everything European is desired more than anything Mexican, and Casiopea’s dark, Mayan appearance is far from what her family and the rest of her small town’s people think is beautiful. Ground down by endless housework and the small cruelties of her cousin Martín, Casiopea dreams of a better life far away.
One day, after a particularly cruel jibe from Martín, Casiopea steals the key her grandfather usually wears around his neck and opens an old wooden chest in a search for money. What she finds instead is a pile of old bones, and when she touches them, she awakens the spirit within the bones– Hun-Kamé, the lord of the Mayan underworld known as Xibalba. He was betrayed and overthrown, and now that Casiopea has awakened him, they are bound together on a quest to reclaim the old god’s throne. Meanwhile, Martín is drawn into the conspiracy against Hun-Kamé and must try to dissuade Casiopea from her course of action by a variety of means.
“They were quiet and they were foolish, both of them, thinking they were threading with any delicacy, and that if they somehow moderated their voices they’d stop the tide. The things you name do grow in power, but others that are not ever whispered claw at one’s heart anyway, rip it to shreds even if a syllable does not escape the lips. The silence was hopeless in any case, since something escaped the god, anyway: a sigh to match the girl’s own.”
Though the language of the story often feels simplistic, it fits into the mood and atmosphere of fairytales, moving from Casiopea’s or Martín’s perspectives and into that of an omniscient narrator that serves to explain the story or setting. This change could feel jarring, but Moreno-Garcia is skilled enough as a writer to make elegant transitions from one perspective to another.
The characters, too, are elegantly written. Casiopea and Martín discover things about themselves and their places in the world. They have their odd similarities, but where Casiopea’s primary desire is for freedom and to see the wider world, Martín’s goals are much smaller. But by the end of the book, the reader comes to understand both of them.
Unlike many current fantasy novels– particularly YA fantasies– Gods of Jade and Shadow is not an action-packed tale starring a sassy, strong female character. Casiopea has a wealth of mental fortitude and wit, and these are her primary strengths. She does not need a weapon to defend herself, she just needs her cleverness. Nor is she afraid to push back when her companion, Hun-Kamé, is rude or fails to understand her human nature.
Though Disney has co-opted many of our fairytales and turned them into romantic tales filled with inevitable happily-ever-afters, the original stories are more ambiguous and darker than the visions Disney provides. Gods of Jade and Shadow follows in the footsteps of these older tales. It is a dark story of unspoken desire, belief, and death, and delves into the depths of mythical Xibalba and the very real cenotes of Yucatán.
Thank you to NetGalley and Del Rey for providing a free ebook ARC in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.