Gods of Jade and Shadow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Words are seeds, Casiopea. With words you embroider narratives, and the narratives breed myths, and there’s power in the myth. Yes, the things you name have power.”

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno GarciaCasiopea Tun’s quiet life in a small Mexican town is very far from the Jazz Age’s action and splendor. Her father taught her to love the stars. Sometimes, even without him, the stars are enough of a distraction from the drudgery of life in her grandfather’s house where she is more likely to be found cleaning than listening to jazz. Like her mother, she is used to suffering the petty digs of her family in silence. Their complaints that she is too dark, that she is a girl, can’t touch her. Not when she dreams of more.

Even her cousin Martín’s abuses are bearable because Casiopea refuses to believe this house will be her life forever. It can’t be in a world where there are stars and movies and automobiles.

Everything changes, as it sometimes does, in the blink of an eye when Casiopea opens a strange wooden box in her grandfather’s room. Instead of treasures or secrets, she finds bones and accidentally releases the spirit of Hun-Kamé, Lord of Xibalba, the Mayan god of death.

His kingdom has been stolen by his traitorous brother who left Hun-Kamé trapped in the box for years. Missing his one ear, one eye, one index finger, and the jade necklace that represents his power, Hun-Kamé cannot face his brother alone. With Casiopea’s help he can make himself whole and recover what was stolen from him. Tying herself to Hun-Kamé could be fatal for Casiopea if they fail. But success could bring her everything she has ever dreamed of.

Helping a god will bring Casiopea from the jungles of Yucatán to glittering Mexico City and beyond. Traveling with Hun-Kamé will also bring Casiopea closer to her truest self and to feelings she dare not name because the things you name always grow in power in Gods of Jade and Shadow (2019) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a quiet, character driven story with a close focus on Casiopea through the lens of an omniscient third person narrator. This degree of separation lends a timeless, inevitable quality to the book as it moves toward the final confrontation between Hun-Kamé and his brother.

Fantastical world building and subtle characterization breathe new life into the Mayan mythology that scaffolds this story of a girl striving for more and, finally, having a chance to grasp it. Subtle conversations and nonverbal interactions between Casiopea and Hun-Kamé underscore the changing relationship (and chemistry) between these singular characters.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is, in my humble opinion, a perfect book. Come for the adventure and engrossing plot, stay for the well-realized characters and bittersweet ending that will linger long after the story is finished.

Possible Pairings: Lovely War by Julie Berry, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Mexican Gothic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-GarciaMexico, 1950: Noemí Taboada, 22, leads an easy, if sometimes boring, life as a glamorous debutante. Her biggest concerns are usually which men to dance with each night, how many dresses she can wear in a day, and convincing her father to continue paying her college tuition instead of urging her to find a husband.

Noemí’s predictable life is upended when a frantic letter arrives from her cousin, Catalina. After a whirlwind courtship and marriage, everyone assumed that Catalina was living happily in the Mexican countryside on her husband’s family estate. But her letter hinting at poisoning, menace, and other threats suggests otherwise.

Although she is an unlikely rescuer, Noemí is certain she can get to the bottom of things once she gets to Catalina. Even unflappable Noemí doesn’t know what to make of High Place when she arrives. The once-stately mansion is nearly derelict, mold creeps along the walls, locals won’t make the trek up the mountain path to the estate, the family lives in isolation.

Catalina’s alluring but menacing husband dismisses the contents of the letter and seems determined to block Noemí’s access to her cousin. Worse, Noemí catches the eye of the family’s ancient patriarch who is uncomfortably interested in the purity of his family line.

Uncertain of who she can trust, not sure if she can believe her own senses, Noemí will have to rely on her own wits to unearth High Place’s dark secrets and try to get herself and her cousin out alive in Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Find it on Bookshop.

Mexican Gothic is a standalone horror novel filled with all of the lavish descriptions and ill-defined menace readers familiar with gothic horror will appreciate. Written in close third person, the novel follows Noemí as she comes to High Place and begins to discover the estate’s long-buried secrets.

Moreno-Garcia uses masterful pacing to amplify both the tension of the narrative and High Place’s menace as Noemí comes closer to the truth. The first two thirds of the novel are very gothic and very creepy with a tightly controlled story. The climax, and explanations, take a dramatic turn with an outcome that feels more like the plot of a 1950s B horror movie as the elements behind High Place’s depravity continue to pile up.

Horror and supernatural elements work together to unpack the sinister truth behind High Place but readers should also be aware that the novel includes instances of sexual assault, gaslighting, body horror, cannibalism, emotional abuse, and incest.

Mexican Gothic is a genuinely scary if sometimes bizarre story. Lavish descriptions, deliberate prose, and a singular heroine make this book a standout in the genre.

Possible Pairings: The Wildling Sisters by Eve Chase; The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson; Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi; Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff; The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle, Crimson Peak, Mother!