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

Gods of jade and shadow

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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.

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This book was not at all on my radar until I read some lovely reviews recently. And then the gorgeous cover enticed me with its beautiful shades of purple and turquoise, and I couldn’t resist purchasing it. I was also fascinated to get to know a bit about Mayan mythology because it’s always such fun discovering new myths and legends.

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This book is written in a style that I didn’t completely get – some sort of an omnipresent or omniscient way of writing which made it feel like the story was happening at a distance and I couldn’t get emotionally connected to it. But it is also very beautiful and poetic and has a very mythical, fairytale feel to it, which can make it a wonderful reading experience for someone who can appreciate it better than me. The author does a great job of describing the setting of 1920s Jazz Age Mexico with its new trends in fashion, fast paced automobiles and fancy rail transportation, the clash between modernity and religion. The author manages to excellently combine the mythological elements of the Gods and the underworld and various creatures with a journey through Mexico and I enjoyed it all a lot. However, it’s a bit slow paced and despite dealing with the God of Death, I never particularly understood the high stakes, so the journey didn’t feel very urgent or impending. But it all came together very well towards the end and I thought the climax was just perfect.

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Casiopea is an endearing protagonist. She has suffered a lot at the hands of her family and longs for freedom and adventure, but none of her hardships have been able to harden her or lessen her kindness and compassion. She is also proud and defiant and clever and I thoroughly enjoyed following her journey, watching her discover herself and what she wants and desires most in life. Hun-Kamé is a God of Death who starts off as someone sure of his powers and destiny, but due to his association with a mortal, he starts to see her and the world and humanity through new eyes, feeling things like emotion and love, and wanting to be something more than just the ruler of Xibalba. I enjoyed seeing this change in his character even though I couldn’t always relate to him. I thought their relationship was written very beautifully, but I’m not sure I was completely convinced with the romance. I guess it just needed a bit more page time to feel realistic. The ending made me pretty emotional though, because I didn’t expect it go that direction, but it was definitely completely in character for the protagonists.

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If you love reading fantasies inspired by different cultures and mythologies, you should definitely check this one out. This is a fascinating tale of adventure and self discovery set in the beautiful landscapes of Mexico, and if you particularly like poetic writing style, this might just be the perfect read for you.

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