Taken any trips this summer? Casiopea Tun certainly didn’t expect Hun-Kame, Lord of Xibalba, to jump out of her creepy grandpa’s creepy foot locker and send her on her first ever vacation to darn near everywhere in Mexico, but that’s Mexico in the 1920s for you. Or for Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow anyway. The fantastic road comedy dynamic between Casiopea and Hun-Kame sets squarely against the magical backdrop of Mayan mythology in this innovative fairy tale. Otherworldly and exotic, the journey crosses jungles, deserts, and cultures as it questions the crossroads of devotion, geography, and myth.
Casiopea lives with in her wealthy, cruel grandfather’s household with her mom, snooty aunts, and abusive cousin, Martin. Grandfather looks down upon Casiopea, whose late father had a Mayan last name instead of a Spanish one, and traced his lineage to Maya royalty. When alone in the house, Casiopea opens a mysterious box with Mayan markings on it that her grandfather had forbidden her to touch and out jumps Hun-Kame. Hun-Kame, who ruled the underworld in Mayan mythology, not only exists but his twin brother Vucub-Kame does, too and Vucub-Kame is sending mosnters kill him. Casiopea agrees to help Hun-Kame recover a missing ear, finger, and eye in order to regain his power, and in doing so brings the wrath of the gods upon her.
In order to find his missing body parts, Hun-Kame and Casiopea, starting near Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula, must travel to Veracruz, Mexico City, El Paso, and Baja California. For those unfamiliar with Mexican geography, those cities are spread out across the country. So, road trip, and just as the Jazz Age takes hold. Casiopea’s world presents a view of the Twenties far from the traditional capitals of style like New York, Paris, and Berlin. It shows the pockets of the world that fashion and technology forgot by painting pictures of the era in the hopes of forlorn dreamers. Monsters, too, leap out of stylish suits for bloody battles between the long past and the future. Clashes like recall the world gone by even while remaining hopeful about the future.
Galavanting about with the Lord of the Underworld inevitably inspires romance in Casiopea. The romance doesn’t begin immediately, however, even though Casiopea does notice his good looks almost right away. At first, Hun-Kame seems downright boring, actually, doing little but sitting and plotting. Eventually, Casiopea comes to enjoy the fanciest hotels at which he magicks them rooms, but the journey spends a disappointing little time in the beautiful setting where it made itself home. The passages describing Jazz Age Mexico capture the imagination most, but a tense plot leaves apparently little time for such diversions. Hun-Kame’s game picks up as he becomes more human (as part of a curse), but there’s more than enough room left in the story for humor and tenderness alongside the adventure and suspense. He’s not alone in this respect: Casiopea, described in many ways as a dreamer, seems to have no greater daydream than escaping her grandfather (accomplished by chapter three) and helping out Hun-Kame.
The enthralling mythology woven into every seam of Gods of Jade and Shadow has an alluring beauty. Fans of Neil Gaiman may find the magic system of Gods of Jade and Shadow similar to that of American Gods, but you know what they say about imitation and flattery. Hun-Kame and Casiopea’s road trip provides plenty of otherworldly monster battles, though, and spreads wide across a beautiful landscape.
For more from Silvia Moreno-Garcia and her awesome past novels check out silviamoreno-garcia.com.
Three out of five stars
Page count: 352
Favorite quote: “With words you embroider narratives, and the narratives breed myths, and there’s power in the myth.”