RogerBW's Blog

Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia 04 March 2020

2019 fantasy. In Jazz Age Mexico, Casiopea Tun is a drudge working in her rich relatives' house. But when she frees a captive Mayan god…

The most surprising thing about this book is how unsurprising it is. It's not bad, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but in terms of plot it's basically a conventional story of a downtrodden heroine who wins through by out-thinking and out-morality-ing the opposition. If it turned out to have been written in the 1990s, I wouldn't be surprised.

Where it goes beyond that is in its examination of romance between god and mortal: how can it happen at all, what needs to be changed in order that it make sense, and how does it affect both parties. Casiopea picks up a shard of bone from Hun-Kamé, the usurped Lord of Xibalba, and this pushes her up somewhat from conventional mortality, at the same time as it begins to humanise Hun-Kamé hiself.

All of this is set against the backdrop of post-Revolutionary Mexico, an under-explored milieu of contrasts between low-tech country living (the old bosses are gone but plenty of people want to be the new boss) and bustling modern cities, complicated by the unsuccessful suppression of counter-revolutionary Catholicism.

But the majority of the book deals with the struggle between Hun-Kamé and his brother Vucub-Kamé as seen through the eyes of Casiopea; the background is drawn from the Popol Vuh but it's given interesting twists rather than being infodumped.

The writing is lovely (with more narration than usual, but it works well to create a mythic atmosphere, another culture's equivalent of fairy tales); the characterisation is great; and the plot works, even if it's one we've seen before. This is what Tim Powers should have written instead of going increasingly up his own mythology, which being the invention of one person is necessarily less interestingly complex than the real thing. Looked at in the context of a possible Hugo nomination, it doesn't bring something new and revolutionary to the field, but it's a solid piece in its own right.

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