Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow starts off as a sort of Cinderella-style fairy tale—a poor girl in a small village who is forced to do hard household labor for her rich uncle and tormented by her cousin, comes to make the acquaintance of a god and finds her life changed.
And tonally, it has elements of a fairy tale throughout. There’s a kind of formality to the roles that the characters play and the rules that govern the plot; and there’s a narrative tone that views things from an omniscient distance. But if it weren’t so clearly a fairy tale, it would also read like a kind of low-key quest fantasy, complete with a struggle between two would-be lords of death.
And like any good quest fantasy, it involves a lot of traveling—here, the protagonist goes from her village in Yucatan to a nearby city, and ultimately up to the American border and over to the Pacific. The book is set in the 1920s, and so it reminds me a bit of The Girls at the Kingfisher Club in how it combines jazz age “modernity” with that fantastical fairy tale feel (though obviously here, it’s in Mexico rather than New York City, and the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution is also part of the places they’re traveling through).
This is a book that would be worth reading just for its atmosphere and style alone, but it’s also a wonderful character piece with a fascinating plot about the relationship between gods and people. This was nominated for the Nebula, and it’s absolutely award-caliber work. Highly recommended.