This was a no-brainer for me as I love Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my review of Certain Dark Things, which also gives the links for my reviews of The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian.
The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own. Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room – and opens it…
I have yet again shortened and tweaked the rather chatty blurb as the story arc is far too well crafted to be spoilt by prior knowledge of one of the main plotpoints. Suffice to say that once more, this remarkable writer has pulled me into her colourful world. I really liked and sympathised with Casiopea, who is the Cinderella-type character – however, don’t go away with the impression that she is anything like the Disneyfied saccharine character who coos over mice and trills to birds. Casiopea is much too coolly self-possessed to do such a girly thing. Indeed, it is her unspoken defiance and evident intelligence that nettles her unpleasant cousin, Martin – how dare the poverty-stricken drudge be their grandfather’s favourite? He is only too aware that if she’d been born a boy, she would have inherited the family fortune and even now, she forgets her place to answer back when he taunts her. So when a particular event takes place after she opens the box and she is offered a new life away from the family home, Casiopea is happy to leave without a backward look.
The character who she follows requires really good writing to portray effectively – he isn’t innately sympathetic, being aloof, cold and not particularly concerned with humanity, other than how the species can best serve him. He certainly isn’t someone I would generally care about – but then it is all about context. Moreno-Garcia is clever in setting him and his interests in opposition to someone much, much worse.
But one of the strengths of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – and one of the main themes she explores throughout this delightful adventure, is one of change. Casiopea and her companion affect each other. She is less angry and bitter away from the long list of dead-end chores she was forced to perform and finds a softer, kinder version of herself who isn’t afraid to intervene to stop someone being harmed. She also finds herself experiencing the world in ways she could only have dreamt of, which forces her to examine what she actually wants, as opposed to what she doesn’t want.
As for her companion, this remote, icily hostile character is shocked to find himself increasingly drawn to the girl, her mortal charm and her kindness, even though he is aware that his evident attraction to her is a sign that all is not well. The other character who undergoes a major change throughout the book is obnoxious Martin. I’m a fan of writers who give us a real insight into what makes their baddies behave so nastily – and Moreno-Garcia gives us a ringside seat to Martin’s plight when he is sent out by his grandfather to coax Casiopea to return home.
The Mexican setting, the 1920s era and above all, the increasingly dangerous tasks faced by these two mortals unwittingly caught up in a power struggle between two immortals who hate each other with a passion only reserved for sibling rivalry. I was fascinated as to how it was going to play out – and I have to say that the ending worked really well. I have found myself thinking about this one since I finished it – always the mark of a book that has sunk its claws into me.
Just a quick word, however – this retelling is a sophisticated, nuanced read designed for adults and is not suitable for youngsters, a detail that Moreno-Garcia is keen to make clear as it has been advertised as a YA read in certain quarters. Very highly recommended for fans of well written fantasy adventure. The ebook arc copy of Gods of Jade and Shadow was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.