I definitely picked up this book because of the cover. But I bought it because: Mayan mythology, immortal gods, mortal humans, supernatural tricksters, deity family grudges, set in 1930s Mexico? YES, PLEASE.
Casiopea is kind of a Cinderella characters, living in her family house in rural Mexico, and treated as a servant. Her cousin Martin lords it over her, and she doesn’t quite have the wherewithal to escape–although she does fight back, and get in lots of trouble for it. One day, she discovers something in her grandfather’s trunk: why, it turns out it’s the bones of the Supreme Lord of Xibalba, the ruling death god. As you might imagine, hijinks ensue.
Casiopea is now joined, physically, to Hun-Kame an immortal god. His twin brother Vucub-Kame betrayed and imprisoned Hun-Kame; he will now begin his quest to regain his throne, which means using Casiopea’s life force to travel through Mexico and recover his missing parts (ear, eye, etc.) so that he can be made whole. And then fight his twin brother.
Casiopea is a lovely character–Moreno-Garcia really lets you see how her choices change her character. There are moments when you are shown that Casiopea could have made other choices, and turned into a rather different person, or revealed herself to be a different person. Hun-Kame, too, despite being an unknowable immortal, has some interesting personality development (I don’t want to spoil it!) and Moreno-Gardia lets us really savor that process, too. Although at first it seems like a classic good vs evil tale, it ends up being…kind of not really that? Because, after all: death gods. It’s wonderfully nuanced and entirely driven by the characters’ choices and self-awareness. I loved the way the deities are conceived; it was an extremely satisfying contrast to the usual Greek/Roman/Christian way of thinking about gods and their foibles, and Moerno-Garcia explains things just the right amount:
“She’d seen drawings of Death in dusty books. It was depicted as a skeleton, its vertebra exposed, black spots on its body symbolizing corruption. That Death and Hun-Kamé seemed entirely different from each other, but now she realized they could be the same.”
Plus, the setting is *chef’s kiss* – trains across the Mexican desert! Jazz Age hotels in Mexico City! Crazy illusory death ziggurats next to the Pacific! A journey by foot through the Mexican underworld! Everything is so dark and moody and art-deco-y, I wanted more even as I was reading it.
In sum, I will be reading Mexican Gothic asap.