Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, was published in 2019.
I downloaded it from The King County Library System.
The story begins in the late 1920s, in the town of Uukumil, in Yucatán .
18-year-old Casiopea Tun was named after the constellation.
Her father was an astronomer, and he upset the local priests by not giving his daughter a Christian name.
She grew up poor.
After her father died, Casiopea and her mother moved in with her bitter old grandfather. Her more affluent relatives, especially her cousin Martín, treat Casiopea worse than they treat the servants. She’s given the hardest chores to do. She often receives beatings for the slightest offence.
Outside of the home, Casiopea isn’t treated much better. Yucatán gave women the right to vote only a couple of years ago, and few men are happy about that decision.
One day, the family makes its monthly trip to the sacred cenotes, where the healing waters can help Grandfather. Casiopea is left behind as punishment for some offence against Martín.
Alone in the house, Casiopea opens Grandfather’s locked chest. It’s full of bones, not the gold she had expected. She pricks her thumb on a bone shard, and accidentally reanimates Hun-Kamé, Lord of Shadows and rightful ruler of Xibalba (the underworld).
Hun-Kamé tells Casiopea that, with the help of Casiopea’s grandfather, his brother, Vacub-Kamé, had stolen his eye, ear, index finger, and also his jade necklace, and then imprisoned him in that chest. Vacub-Kamé is now wrongfully sitting on the throne of Xibalba.
Hun-Kamé explains that he must travel to find his missing necklace and body parts, and regain his throne. He is the rightful heir, born seven heartbeats before Vacub-Kamé. He further explains that the bone shard embedded in Casiopea’s thumb is draining her humanity and is giving it to him. Eventually, it will kill her. He cannot remove the bone shard until he regains his full power. Casiopea has no choice but to accompany him on his quest across Mexico and possibly into Xibalba.
Along the way, Casiopea meets gods and demons of the Huastec, Mayan, and Aztec people.
Vacub-Kamé discovers that his twin brother has been reanimated. He travels to the mortal world and visits his servant Cirilo Leyva (Casiopea’s grandfather). The chest tells them of Casiopea’s role in the reanimation. Cirilo claims to be too old and frail to hunt down Hun-Kamé and Casiopea. Vacub-Kamé cannot do it himself, since he is a god and his movement is limited in the mortal world. (Because of his missing body parts, Hun-Kamé is merely a partial god.) So, Cirilo’s grandson, Martín Leyva, is assigned the task of stopping Casiopea and Hun-Kamé.
It’s not going to an easy task for Martín, for the bone shard in her thumb has changed his cousin into “a thing not quite human and not quite divine.” And Hun-Kamé, although he is weakened, is still a god.
Casiopea Tun had never been more than a kilometer from her home, until she met Hun-Kamé. But she is an intelligent and resourceful young woman. She’s a kind of hostage in this quest. There is something she can do to leave Hun-Kamé and survive, but she’d rather not take that step. She is helping Hun-Kamé go home, but she now has no home of her own.
Casiopea, who was named after the heavens, forms a kind of companionship with a lord of the underworld. She had been given a strict Catholic upbringing, and this worries her. “If sins were about to be tallied, Casiopea realized she might be in trouble. At this point she’d probably have to pray about five hundred rosaries. Running away from home, talking to a demon, seeing a man naked… best not dwell too much on this.” But Hun-Kamé treats her with a kindness and a respect that she is not used to.
Casiopea Tun is the main character, but the story is also told from the points of view of Martín Leyva, Cirilo Leyva, Hun-Kamé, and Vacub-Kamé.
This is a beautiful book, rich in culture, and told in a poetic way. “It is not as if gods do not express anger, envy, and desire. But these are like compartments that may be opened and closed with iron keys, and often the gods exist in a state of placid indifference. Their laughter, when it surfaces, is not born in the heart, but the head.“
It’s an adventure story, often thrilling and sometimes frightening. It borders on a love story.
I loved the believable characters.
I loved the ending. It was not what I was expecting at all.
I loved this book a lot.