Disclaimer: I won a signed copy of this book on a Twitter giveaway.
I recently read a collection of essays by author’s where they highlighted their favorite independent bookstore in North America; however, with the exception of two books, all the books where from the US. There was no mention of a bookstore in Mexico. To be honest, Mexico seems to get left out of North America quite a bit. Unless certain people are taking about immigration – though technically, the Americans were the illegal immigrants to the Texas area during Colonial times. Therefore, it is nice to read something that has to do with North American myth that is not based in Canada or the US.
Set in the 1920s, God of Jade and Shadow is a retelling/version of the Popol Vuh – the Mayan Creation story. Casiopea, a young girl, wishes for freedom from her life of drudgery that is comparable to Cinderella and Jane Eyre. That changes when she fines herself caught up in a power struggle between two gods for control of the underworld or the fate of the known world. From there the novel is part quest, part coming of age/self, and part romance. It is also a mediation on duality (China is not the only country who has the idea of yin/yang) and the nature of death to a degree.
And is damn good.
The success of the book rests largely on the prose style of Silvia Moreno-Garcia who tells the story with a storyteller’s voice – it is almost an oral story. There are wonderful passages. There are the bits about the owl bringing a character thing in a shell that, each time, is so beautiful you want to weep. Moreno-Garcia is able to present a country that looks down, in some respects, on its original stories, as well as the amalgamation that occurs, or sometimes occurs, when colonials and aboriginals fall in love. Casiopea is who she is because of her father (who is aboriginal) and her mother (who is not and who is Catholic).
The idea of duality runs throughout the novel. Many of the characters are twins or if not, biological twins are linked or mirrored by another character. This is in part because of Popol Vuh (pairs of brothers) It is interesting that one of those that mirrors Casiopea is male. But this ties into one of the 1920s and the role of women. The duality them is also tied to death – is death the sweet release or something we should rage against? It all depends, maybe. This is something else that runs throughout the novel.
I love how the duality or doubling includes the stories of the god’s vs the humans with a slight reversal of roles. Bloody brilliant.
The only false note is chapter three. Now, I understand why chapter three is there, and the action of it does need to be in the story. But it disrupts the flow- this isn’t because of the switch in character focus, but the step back in time that occurs. It felt like it physically ejected me from the novel, a novel that had drawn me totally into its world so quickly.