Book Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I seriously considered sitting under a streetlamp on a cold November night so that I could finish reading this book after the library closed, but my partner insisted on making me walk home first, much to my chagrin. Gods of Jade and Shadow is a book that utterly seized my soul, and left me feeling happier than I had in a long time. So many books that grip me like this one did leave me feeling empty once I’ve finished them, and like there is a void I need to fill, but Gods of Jade and Shadow left me feeling content and nourished.
I’m a bit of an odd duck, so it’s no surprise that when I heard there was a book about a young woman accidentally resurrecting a Mayan Death God in 1920s Mexico I was all for getting myself a copy. On the surface it’s easy to dismiss Casiopea as the typical poor relation to a rich family mistreated like a servant, who dreams of life outside her small town, and though she is literate and strong willed, she is restricted by her low status until a magical rich man sweeps her off her feet. While that might be a version of what happens, that’s ignoring the fact that Casiopea’s choice to aid the god Hun-Kamé in regaining his throne from his brother Vucub-Kamé is partially motivated by the fact that their lives are tied together. A significant portion of the book is a kind of scavenger hunt for items that will help him regain power, but the longer it goes on, the closer Casiopea is to death, and the closer Hun-Kamé is to losing his immortality. There’s also lascivious demons, lots of time on trains, a contest to the death, and dancing. It’s the jazz age after all.
Structurally, this book is I have to say one of the most perfect I’ve read in a long time, and I mean that in that it was the perfect kind of book for the kind of reading mode I’m in right now. The story is split up into neat, evenly paced and digestible acts; the characters are each of them complex and dynamic, and the narration flows smoothly across perspectives so that each time we see things from the view of a new character and get another piece of the puzzle it melds together in such a way that is both complete yet incomplete — we can see the whole picture and how it overlaps in different colors.
The way that the romantic arc played out in particular was fascinating because I found that my own opinion about the relationship shifted throughout the book, and as my opinion shifted and the plot moved along there were multiple twists and things ended up in such a way that two things I thought were mutually exclusive came to pass, which threw me for a loop.
Part of what made this such a masterpiece, in my opinion, is how it acted as a kind of character study in what makes someone divine rather than human in terms of personality and actions, done via Hun-Kamé’s slow transformation from god to man, and the contrast between his nebulous state, Vucub-Kamé as a full god, and the mortal and demonic characters.
Overall, I highly recommend Gods of Jade and Shadow. It was a really fun read, and for a book about the gods of death and the underworld it was I have to say much tamer than I had expected. It is still a bit gory in a few places, but not terribly so, and surprisingly few people died permanently. (I do hope that’s not considered too much of a spoiler — I just don’t want anyone going into this with the false expectation that people will be dying all over the place just because it’s about death, because this isn’t at all that kind of story.) If you’re looking for a page turner that’s complex in character and plot, rich in diversity, and has a happy ending, Gods of Jade and Shadow will satisfy that need quite well.