July was a pretty heavy reading month, but this book was pure fun and I enjoyed every bit of it. Moreno-Garcia’s novel is set in 1920’s Mexico, where Casiopea, a young woman in Yucatan, is struggling in her oppressive grandfather’s home. It begins as a Cinderella story — Casiopea and her mother are poor relations, doing the housework for their wealthy relatives. Casiopea’s mother seems resigned to their situation but Casiopea can’t seem to help rebelling a bit, especially when it comes to her abusive cousin Martin.
Her future looks grim until one day (as in all good fairy tales) she accidentally frees the Mayan God of Death, Hun-Kame. Casiopea and Hun-Kame are now tied to each other by blood. Casiopea has to help him defeat the brother who chopped off his head, imprisoned him in a chest, and stole his underworld kingdom. If she doesn’t, they both die.
I love reading books about mythologies other than the ones I’m used to, and in this novel Moreno-Garcia has written a fairy tale based on Mayan mythology. It’s also a coming of age story for Casiopea, who is tested both emotionally and physically throughout this book. And it’s a road trip story, a quest story, and a story of the friendship between our two main characters.
I loved Moreno-Garcia’s vivid descriptions and atmospheric writing, and I also loved the way she used Mayan terminology throughout, providing readers with a glossary at the end (though it wasn’t really needed, because her writing puts everything in context). I loved the way the characters experience different parts of the region, from Yucatan to Merida to Veracruz to Baja, California. And I liked the conclusion, though it did leave me wanting more (which is really the best way to end a book).
In many ways this book reads like a lot of traditional fairy tales – think Greek mythology — in that the characters have a goal and need to defeat a series of monsters to do it. But Moreno-Garcia adds quite a lot to this traditional story, mainly in her character development of Casiopea (who has never left her family before) and Hun-Kame (who experiences for the first time what it means to be partly human). I also appreciated the various issues raised during their travels related to religion, colonization, and the Jazz Age. Moreno-Garcia has written a fantasy novel that somehow feels very real. I look forward to reading more of her work.
Note: I received an advance review copy from NetGalley and publisher Del Rey. This book published July 23, 2019. I’m also applying this book to my Reading Around the World Challenge and the Read Harder 2019 Challenge.