When Casiopea Tun defies her wealthy grandfather and opens the secret chest in his bedroom, she accidentally awakens Hun-Kamé, god of death and the Supreme Lord of Xibalba. But Hun-Kamé was locked in the chest after being betrayed by his twin, and now he needs Casiopea’s help to recover his stolen body parts and regain his throne. Longing for a life of adventure and a way out of her tiny Yucatan home, Casiopea agrees—and sets on off an adventure she never imagined.
Casiopea and Hun-Kamé travel the length and breadth of Mexico to recover his stolen eye, ear, finger and jade necklace and restore him to power—all while walking straight into the dangerous traps placed by Vucub-Kamé to delay their victory and weaken the former supreme lord of death.
I enjoyed this book, but I didn’t enjoy the narrative style.
Let’s see if I can make this make sense.
I adored the way Mayan and Mexican mythology was weaved into the narrative and the essence of the book, and how dichotomy was a main theme. The gods were reflected in ten pairs, the Hero Twins, Casiopea and her cousin Martín. The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, myth and history, tradition and change, past and present, fast and slow, life and death, hate and love, big and small, the individual and the worlds—all layered and stacked and interwoven to create Mexico in the tumult of the Jazz Age.
Stepping into this book knowing absolutely nothing of Mexican (or Mesoamerican) history was liked being slammed into an entirely new world—and the nonstop race from jungle to desert to slow, provincial towns to madcap, glittering cities only further served to fascinate. It is a world that is beautiful and scary and real, filled with wealthy European influence and the death of a culture and of their gods, and of how myth and gods must change to be relevant/continue to live.
I liked Casiopea a lot. She’s a normal person, but still special. She’s not a warrior, she’s just a girl with the stars in her eyes and a heart for adventure, who wants more than a life of drudgery and pain and torment, who knows that she is more but just isn’t sure what that more will look like. And she falls in love with Hun-Kamé, the god who is human and not human because of the bond between them—even as he slowly kills her by draining her life force.
But. Despite my love of literally everything in this book, there was something that kept me from wanting to fall head over heels into it. It took me a week to read it, because I just didn’t want to make time to finish it. It felt like the plot dragged on, bogged down by superfluous exposition. I wasn’t sucked in or pulled into the story until probably the 80% mark.
Despite my intrigue and love of the world-building and detail, at times the descriptions waxed a bit too poetic for my taste. It felt like everything was described two or three times in the same paragraph, each time getting just a touch more lyrically abstract as the omnipresent narrator belabored over the details of Xibalba and the blood and sacrifices and jade palace and courtiers, the glittering hotels and whirling streets of Mexico City and the dust and grime of El Paso, the different historical aspects of each thing. While I liked learning more about the history and the intersection of the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica with the various European colonizers who swept through the region, at times I felt like I was being bonked over the head with didactic lecturing (if you’re wondering if I had a dictionary in front of me while reading this, why yes, yes I did).
This narrative voice kept pulling me out of the story and making me disinterested in this absolutely fascinating hero’s journey. It felt like traditional fairy tale narration, but overdone? It was too much telling how Martín and Casiopea and Vucub-Kamé felt and thought and not enough showing how they felt. I wanted to get into the story, not drift over it.
Anywho. So much for me trying to wrap my head around my thoughts on this one.
To sum up: it’s a great story with a fabulous recreation of Mayan mythology, Mexican history, and so many paired themes that I could probably spend hours dissecting and thinking about. I loved the plot and the characters, but I was not a fan of the narrative style.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.