Here at Signals from the Edge, we’re starting a new series called SFF Read-Along, where we’ll be reading (and rereading) some awesome science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels while providing some insight and summary.
Each of these series will be numbered so you can keep track of where you’re at and not risk spoilers!
For our first book, we’ll be reading Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This book was first published in 2019 from Del Rey Books, and is a neat combination of Mayan and Axtec mythology with 1920s modernity.
In this first part, we’ll be discussing chapters 1 through 11, with part two coming out Friday, July 1st, and the third part coming out Friday, July 8th.
Definitely Not Cinderella
The story starts off in the house of Leyva in Uukumil, a small village in Mexico. Casiopea, our heroine, toils away under the cruel eyes of her grandfather and her cousin, Martín.
When I read a few paragraphs into the first chapter, I assumed Casiopea would turn out to be a Cinderella-like character, rising above her family’s prejudices to be swept into royalty and intrigue.
But, our narrator already thought of that: “Had Casiopea possessed her father’s pronounced romantic leanings, perhaps she might have seen herself as a Cinderella-like figure.”
Instead of a fairy-tale rendition, we see a “pragmatic” and determined character, bogged down by the religious and societal ideals of her small town. She dreams of getting away from Uukumil, to the big cities where short hair, jazz, and automobiles are the hot fads.
The first chapter does a lot to set up Casiopea as a character. We see her desires and troubles, and we recognize the significance of the stars. After all, she was named after a constellation, as the narrator reminds us.
Enter the Lord of Xibalba
After a particularly frustrating fight with her cousin, Casiopea takes matters into her own hands, tired of her “pitiful existence”. Thinking that she can make off with a load of her grandfather’s gold, Casiopea’s world is instead turned on its head. She sneaks a look inside the chest at the foot of her grandfather’s bed, and discovers that it’s not filled with gold, but bones.
Whose bones? Well, the bones of Hun-Kamé, a Lord of the Underworld. Upon opening the chest, Casiopea is struck with a shard of bone, which we learn ties her to the Xibalban. Her life-force powers the god as he regains a physical form (which just so happens to be a tall, handsome man).
Even in the face of a god, an ethereal being, Casiopea manages to maintain relative composure. That, more than anything, is indicative of her character, which we see come to the forefront later on in the story. “She did not pause to question her sanity, to think she might be hallucinating. She accepted Hun- Kamé as real and solid.” Even with her pragmatism, Casiopea is open to believing in ghosts, demons, gods, and unexplainable beasts.
I guess she had to, being tied to the god of the dead in such an intimate way.
And thus begins Casiopea’s journey, her chance at escape from Uukumil and the society that sees her as nothing more than a maidservant.
Across the Yucatán
Freeing Hun-Kamé from his prison sets in motion a grand adventure for Casiopea. They leave Uukumil in search of Hun-Kamé’s missing body parts–an eye, a finger, etc.–so that he can regain full power and overtake his traitorous brother in Xibalba.
The multi-stop journey in search of Hun-Kamé’s power is a classic part of any mythology-related novel. From Percy Jackson to American Gods, the trend is to set off on a grand trek, meeting all sorts of deities and monsters along the way.
For Casiopea, she’s introduced to the world of ghosts, demons, and sorcerers, and with each encounter her bravery grows. It’s a subtle change, and even though she’s often overcome by her feelings, she still helps Hun-Kamé, even if she claims it’s because of an obligation, we start to see it’s because of her compassion.
Even when presented with an opportunity to rid herself of Hun-Kamé, she resolves that to do so would be distasteful, and as traitorous as her grandfather and Vucub-Kamé.
Her journey takes her to Mérida, Veracruz, and Mexico City, which is where chapter 12 begins. Check back on Friday, July 1st when we discuss the next leg of Casiopea’s adventure, chapters 12 through 23.
In the meantime, check out some of our other blogs!