“God’s of Jade and Shadow” is a thrilling novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia that weaves together 1920s Mexican culture and Mayan mythology. Throughout the tale readers seamlessly jump between a world of flapper dresses and the land of Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld. The novel follows the adventure of Casiopea Tan, a young girl who worked as a servant in her family’s house, and Hun-Kamé, a god of death who had been imprisoned by his brother until Casiopea accidentally frees him and sets into motion a quest that will take her farther from home than she thought she could go.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia does not write cliches. The plot, characters, narrative arc and setting of her novel keep readers on their proverbial toes while reading this fantastically unique novel. When reflecting on the book after reading, I could trace a hint of a Cinderella story and an echo of Homer’s “The Odyssey” in “Gods of Jade and Shadow,” but the novel is more than and different from both stories. While reading I frequently thought that I knew what was going to happen, then Moreno-Garcia took the narrative in an unexpected direction.
I love the layers, both literal and figurative, that fill the pages of this novel. We follow life on earth and in Xibalba — which exists below the realm inhabited by humans — while also watching themes of family, love, hate, fear and sacrifice unfold as the narrative builds.
One of my favorite parts of the novel is the duality that exists within most of the characters. Casiopea is fierce and wants to escape her home but she also experiences fear and feels a pull to return to her family. Hun-Kamé is part god, part human and offers both benevolence and malice. When the novel concludes it is left for readers to decide if Casiopea and Hun-Kamé did the right thing at the end of their journey or if they should have taken a different path than the one that they ultimately chose.
Casiopea is a young woman named after the stars, but her feet are firmly on the ground. She dreams quietly of a better life, one of freedom from her grandfather, her cousin and the servitude she and her mother now live. She keeps these hopes close to her chest, though, feeling that to speak them would endanger them. Her longings are ones we can easily relate to -- dancing, excitement, love, but most of all, freedom.
From the very first page, Silvia Moreno-Garcia brings us into the vivid world of her story. Her writing is colorful and descriptive, her metaphors and similes evoking easy images and carrying you into the current of her words. She has skill for beautifully painting the picture of her stories with her writing, bringing to life places, cultures and histories that her readers may not know well.
“Gods of Jade and Shadow” is a thought-provoking, interesting tale that opens up the world of Mayan mythology alongside the history of Mexico. The story is filled with a varied, vivid cast of characters and creatures, from Casiopea’s human family to demons, sorcerers and the gods themselves. Hun-Kamé, the god Casiopea frees, is perhaps the most intriguing. Though he at first appears so noble and haughty, he cannot remain untouched by the mortal world, or by Casiopea. Though initially she is an unwilling participant, her character does not allow her to be passive. She is the one that drives the story, and their mission. Their journey twists and turns along the way, but Casiopea is always at the center of the storyline, its heart.
February’s RiverTown Reads book is “Red At The Bone” by Jacqueline Woodson. The short novel tells the story of three generations of a family living in New York City. Woodson shows how history and individual experiences impact each member of the family.
Questions to consider when reading
What is your understanding of the phrase “red at the bone”? Why do you think Woodson used this as the title of her novel?
Multiple historic events, including the Tulsa Race Massacre and Sept. 11 are woven into the novel’s narrative. Why do you think Woodson includes these events? How do they connect with each other?
The novel is uniquely constructed as it does not unfold in a linear fashion. What did you think of this? How do you think the nonlinear plot impacted your understanding of the characters and the novel?
Woodson packs the novel with numerous themes including identity, loss, grief, class, racism, education, sexual identity and family relationships. Were there any themes that you found most impactful or paid closest attention to while reading the novel?
Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?