Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Gods of Jade and Shadow was one of a few books that I bought to help get myself out of my lockdown reading slump. Set in Mexico during the 1920’s, the story follows a young woman called Casiopea who happens to be the downtrodden member of a wealthy family, until one day she frees the ancient Mayan God of Death, Hun-Kamé, who has been imprisoned in a locked chest in her grandfather’s bedroom.

Casiopea agrees to accompany Hun-Kamé around Mexico as he attempts to restore himself to full power, and it’s a race against time as while he exists in mortal form, he draws strength from her, draining her like a battery. Their quest to retrieve Hun-Kamé’s essence (his eye, ear, finger and jade necklace) takes them across Mexico encountering all manner of ghosts, demons, witches and other supernatural beings before the final confrontation in the underworld, Xiabalba, itself, it’s delightfully sinister and macabre in places.

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Hun-Kamé and his treacherous twin, Vucub-Kamé pit Casiopea and her cousin, Martin, against each other as they battle for supremacy over the underworld; it’s an interesting dynamic as all four characters’ positions were determined by chance as firstborn Hun-Kamé became the ruler of Xibalba with his younger twin destined to serve him, while Martin is the heir to their grandfather’s fortune soley because of his gender with Casiopea assigned to a position of servitude.

Given that Gods of Jade and Shadow is just over 300 pages in length, I found it slow to start and if not for my 100 page rule I might have given up before it started to get interesting, I also thought the romantic subplot felt flat and predictable, however, I found the setting and Mayan mythology a refreshing change, and the final test of the champions and the ending itself were particularly satisfying. Have a lovely week. X

Review of ‘Signs Preceding the End of the World’ by Yuri Herrera

Review of ‘Signs Preceding the End of the World’ by Yuri Herrera

Inspired by Ann Morgan’s TED talk My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World, I’ve been trying to read more translated fiction over the last few years, and I picked up Signs Preceding the End of the World on a cold day while day-dreaming about sunnier climes.

Signs Preceding the End of the World is the tale of a young Mexican woman called Makina who embarks on a quest to deliver a message to her brother who crossed the border to make a new life for himself in the United States.

In some ways, this is a modern retelling of the hero’s quest, reminiscent of Orpheus’ journey through the underworld, except Makina’s underworld is one full of crimelords, thugs, border patrols, police officers and illegal immigrants. The writing is sparse and poetic, and at times the plot trots along so quickly that whole chapters pass in a blur adding to the surreal and sometimes nightmarish quality of the story.

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Makina is quite literally a messenger, working at a telephone exchange connecting people from “Little Town” where she lives to “the Big Chilango” (Mexico city) and beyond; Makina is resourceful, capable of crossing borders and languages, and able to defend herself in a machismo culture.

Signs Preceding the End of the World is a topical story concerning someone crossing the Mexico-US border illegally, describing how dangerous the crossing itself is as she relies on crimelords and smugglers to help her, evading border patrols and police along the way. Reaching the U.S.A she finds immigrants everywhere, and notices their influence on the culture from food to music and language, as well witnessing the daily prejudice and discrimination they face.

This is a short book – barely more than 100 pages – it ends almost as abruptly as it starts, but leaves the reader with much to ponder. Have a lovely week. X