Casiopea Tun is a poor relative. She and her mother were taken in by her grandfather when her father died, and since then she has been treated appallingly, more like a lowly servant than a family member. In Mexico in the 1920s, her options are limited but she dreams of escaping her relatives and the small town she’s living in and live The Life: cars, dances, fancy dresses and swims in the ocean. One day, when she’s alone in the house, she opens a chest that’s in her grandfather’s room, and releases a god of the underworld who had been trapped there by his brother. While doing so, a splinter of his bones gets lodged in her hand, and from that point on, their fates are intertwined. He wants to regain his throne as the Lord of Xibalba, and she wants the splinter out of her hand, because it’s killing her slowly. What follows is a mythical quest that draws on Mayan mythology.
I should have loved Gods of Jade and Shadow. It had so many elements that I’d normally enjoy, not least the aforementioned Mayan mythology. The idea of a mythical quest appeals to me. Moreno-Garcia obviously has a talent for beautiful descriptions, even if that talent wasn’t exactly on full display here. There was so much potential here to weave a vibrant, exciting story. Instead, the execution falls flat. Except for the two main characters, and perhaps Casiopea’s cousin Martin, all other characters are instantly forgettable. As is expected during a quest, our protagonists kept moving forward, but each part of their journey seemed a repetition of the last one, everything similar except the name of the city they’re in. At the end of the day though, those things didn’t bug me as much as the language. There was something juvenile about it, yet it wasn’t so consistently. Sometimes, while in the middle of describing an event, Moreno-Garcia will stop to explain something or give background information. This is not done seamlessly, so it really took me out of the story. It reminded me of children’s fairy tales for some reason, which in a way I suppose this was. Nothing wrong with fairy tales, don’t get me wrong. I like them. But it was as if Gods of Jade and Shadow couldn’t decide whether it was one.
So this was a very frustrating novel for me to read, because I should have loved it and instead I was mostly bored. Big props though for having a female lead, and for not having love be her main motivation for doing things.