Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-García

I’m going to cut right to the chase. Go buy this book, now. You won’t regret it.

Still here? Then allow me to explain. Gods of Jade and Shadow is a delight. It’s the story of Casiopea Tun, an eighteen-year-old from Yucatán in 1927. On her mother’s side, she’s from an influential local family, the quintessential big fishes in a small pond. But on her father’s side, she’s of Maya heritage and therefore looked down upon by her more fair-skinned cousins. She dreams of one day escaping her little village and seeing the wider world, out from under the oppressive thumb of her Grandfather and her spiteful cousin Martín.

One day, an encounter with a Maya god of death promises to make her dreams come true—if it doesn’t kill her first. She leaves her village on a trek across Mexico in the company of this dark Lord of Xibalba, the Maya underworld, along the way meeting numerous other creatures from the indigenous and colonial mythologies of Mexico. The death god, Hun-Kamé, is on a quest to retrieve certain elements stolen from him by his vengeful brother Vucub-Kamé, who now sits on Hun-Kamé’s throne. Once he collects what he has lost, he will be able to challenge his brother. Until then, his existence on this mortal plane is bound to Casiopea’s. The longer he remains in his semi-mortal state, the closer Casiopea comes to her own death.

As she did in Certain Dark Things, Moreno-García masterfully weaves ancient Mesoamerican folklore with modern Mexican sensibilities. Gods of Jade and Shadow reminded me of the Latin American novels I read in my Spanish Literature classes back in college—and that is definitely a good thing! She spins a tale of magical realism as adeptly as did Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luís Borges, or any of the other greats of the twentieth century.

Most important, she makes me care about her characters. By the time you get to the end of the story, you understand why each of them acts as they do. You cheer for the heroes while feeling at least a twinge of pity for the villains. They’re all imminently human—even the gods and monsters.

So if you like contemporary fantasy or magical realism, buy this book.

If you like tender coming-of-age stories, buy this book.

If you love Mexico, its people and its culture, buy this book.

You really won’t be sorry you did.

Shadow of the King: First 300 Words

[Subject to further revision, here’s the opening for the project I’ve been slogging through.]

Why, Rune wondered, were fallowmen so keen on eating breakfast foods at all hours of the night?

He sat at the far end of the counter. With his back to the wall, he could see everything in the diner. He had chosen not to mask his appearance. People saw him as he was: a slender young man with hair the color of cornsilk neatly combed and pulled back in a ponytail. His ears weren’t pointed, exactly, but the cartilage bent in obtuse angles at their tops. 

Two men sat at the counter. Two others, a man and a woman, ate pancakes and gushed about the concert they had just come from. Rune took it all in, sipping his tea and pretending to read yesterday’s newspaper.

Outside, the city was dark. The streets were empty.

Three people were working at the diner: a waitress, a fry cook, and a manager helping both as needed. 

It was the waitress that Rune had come for. She looked just like his client had described: average build, mid-twenties, mousy brown hair, not a great beauty but pretty enough by this world’s standards. She wiped down tables, lost in thought.

Rune wondered what was on her mind. Was she wrapped up in her work? Worrying about bills? She had a small child; was she thinking about her? Was she worried she was being watched? Is that why she seemed so jumpy? 

Other people’s emotions were a puzzle to Rune. That’s what made this job different…and dangerous. How would she react? And how much did she know? Even fellowmen—or women—could be dangerous if they understood the Covenant, and Jo Ellen Hollart was sure to know something. A bit of iron or a hawthorn switch could turn even a simple job into a disaster.