Hey, magical folx! In this episode we discuss Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, which is *NOT* YA. We gotta say this at the top because its some sexist bs that women/femme adult fantasy writers get miscategorized as YA (read about how sexism impacts genre categorization).
*Call to action* This fortnight, we’re urging our magical community to learn more about abolishing borders, abolishing ICE and migrant justice as well as to support organizations doing this work.
- Watch/listen to the final plenary from this year’s Allied Media Conference, “From Dreams to Practice: Abolition in Our Lifetimes”. The panel features a TON of rad ppl doing abolitionist work, including Miski Noor, Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty, Andrea Ritchie, Toni-Michelle Williams, Mariame Kaba and Rachel Herzing. Check out their work and learn learn learn and act act act [Note: I (K) attended the AMC virtually and I was BLOWN AWAY by the wisdom shared. Cannot recommend enough]
- Check out Harsha Walia’s Ted Talk “A World Without State Borders”. Her book Undoing Border Imperialism is definitely on my TBR!
- Abolish ICE Denver is just one of the groups doing the work. They have an encampment outside of the Aurora ICE detention facility run by the for-profit prison company GEO Group. Check out their instagram for updates and action items. And donate if you can!
**This isn’t an exhaustive list! Please do research for your local area and share with us any resources you find in your journey. We will share those on Instagram and Twitter. We are often posting resources on social media as well, so check that out, too!
Additionally, if you get a chance and are able, please consider becoming a patron on Patreon to get episodes early, access to our discord, and more. Or you can make a one time donation on ko-fi. Support feminist media, ppl! <3
Transcript below (or access the pdf version)
And now onto notes, notes, and more notes:
- Y’all, I (K) was today years old when I found out we can read the entire Popul Vuh translated into English for free.
- An excellent article that traces the history of the Maya Quiché/Ki’che peoples of what-is-now-called Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize). And here’s a Khan Academy resource on the region – it’s a great introduction the MANY peoples who are indigenous to the area.
- A primer on the history of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917/20), including its antecedents and consequences – video en español and video in English.
- This PBS video explains why being poor costs more than being rich.
- An article on anti-Blackness in Latin American countries and how it is enshrined by specific policies. A resource for non-Black POC about how to have convos about anti-Blackness within various communities.
- J recommends the sci-fi tv show Altered Carbon (available on netflix)
- If you’re interested, the New Yorker article “Affect Theory and the New Age of Anxiety” is a good read and includes a primer on affect theory (aka what and how we feel individually and collectively). I (K) am always nerding out about this stuff, so hmu if you want to discuss.
- The Maya were badass astronomers. Check out this interview with UC Santa Barbara professor Gerardo Aldana to learn more.
- Speaking of stars, I (K) talk a bit about how much I love space, astronomy, astrology or as I say in the episode, “that star shit” lol. One of my favorite astro-related resources that I use all the time is NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). It gives me some peace and perspective to see a nebula 70 million light years away.
- Books mentioned in the episode:
- Mexican Gothic, Silvia M-G’s new horror novel (also *NOT* YA)
As always, we’d love to be in discussion with you, magical folx. Post or tweet about the show using #criticallyreading. Let us know what you think of the episode, anything we missed, or anything else you want us to know by dropping a line in the comments or reaching out to us on twitter or Instagram (@thelibrarycoven), or via email (email@example.com). You can also check out the show notes on our website, thelibrarycoven.com.
We really appreciate ratings and reviews on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or any other platforms. Help us share the magic by spreading the word about the podcast!
Please support our labor by leaving us a one-time tip on Ko-fi or purchasing books from our Bookshop! Even better yet, become a monthly patron via Patreon and you can unlock a bunch of exclusive perks like mini-sodes, bonus episodes, and access to our community of reader-listeners on Discord.
JK, it’s magic is recorded and produced on stolen indigenous land: Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Ute (Kelly) and Chickasha, Kaskaskia, Kickapoo, Mascoutin, Miami, Mesquaki, Odawa, Ojibwe, Peankashaw, Peoria, Potawatomi, Sauk, and Wea (Jessie)
JK, It’s Magic
Episode 33: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
transition [00:00:14] [bright, whimsical music plays].
jessie [00:00:14] Hello! And welcome to JK, It’s Magic, a bi-weekly podcast in which two bookish besties discuss mostly white fantasy through the lens of intersectional feminist criticism. Why? Because critique is our fangirl love language. And because talking about books is pretty magical. I’m Jessie.
kelly [00:00:29] And I’m Kelly. And in this episode, we discuss GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This is a fantasy novel inspired by Mexican folklore and indigenous traditions. And in this novel, we have Cassiopeia [Spanish pronunciation] or Cassiopeia [American English pronunciation], who accidentally frees Supreme Lord of Shadow, Hun Kamé. And they– who is missing a few body parts, and so they have to go collect some body parts. And seek vended– vengeance against his brother, Vucub Kamé, who stole said body parts and is now the leader of Xibalba, the underworld.
jessie [00:01:15] Let’s– let’s do it!
transition [00:01:16] [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
jessie [00:01:21] So first of all, we want to start with a quick, small talk and call to action this fortnight. We’re going to be putting some resources in the show notes to highlight organizations where you can donate and learn more about abolishing borders, abolishing ice and migrant justice. Additionally, if you get a chance and are able, please consider becoming a patron on Patreon to get episodes early, access to our discord and more. Or you can make a one-time donation on Ko-fi.
transition [00:01:45] [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
kelly [00:01:51] Initial reactions. What did you think, Jessie?
jessie [00:01:55] So this was a particularly slow moving read for me. As you may know, I usually fly through books and read them really quickly. And this one took me probably about a month to read. It’s kind of a travel story. And while the story takes place over a relatively short amount of time, the pace was really slow. The story was really interesting. I really liked the dynamic between the characters, but it wasn’t really my favorite story. What about you?
kelly [00:02:20] I really liked this book because of the expansive and rich world building and also the prose is beautiful. I thought I agree that the pace felt less frenetic. And I think it’s important to mention at the top of the episode that this is not a young adult novel. This is like full on, like adult fantasy. The protagonist is 18, going on 19 or 19?
jessie [00:02:46] Yeah, she’s she’s an adult.
kelly [00:02:49] And so there’s like a– I think that might contribute, right, to the different style and pace. And I guess like depth. And I would say I agree with you in that it was like a more demanding read, I guess. For me at least, like it required that I pay more attention. There’s a lot of nuance and detail in all of the different language that’s used. There’s a lot of like indigenous terms. There’s a– like looking up in the glossary in the back helps and also using the Internet just like helps. So that’s my take. I’m– I want to read more by this author. I thought…um I really like the writing in particular.
jessie [00:03:28] Yea, she does have a novel coming out soon. I think actually over the summer. It might be out by the time this episode comes out called Mexican Gothic. It looks really good. I should mention that this author often gets put on lists for young adult books, even though none of her books are young adult. So if you see it on a YA list, maybe like send someone an email and let them know [chuckles] it’s not.
kelly [00:03:49] Call that shit out, because that happens to women authors all the time in particular.
jessie [00:03:54] Especially fantasy.
kelly [00:03:55] Yeah. And it seems that… I don’t know, it seems even more dismissive when it happened when I see really visible cases happening to women of color in particular.
jessie [00:04:05] I would agree.
kelly [00:04:07] I also think that this has some of the most gorgeous cover art of any book. Like, I just I adore it, everything about it. That’s actually why I picked it up off the shelf. I was at a bookstore in San Francisco [shoutout to Green Apple Books!] and found the book. So thanks, Jessie, for reading it!
jessie [00:04:26] [laughs] It’s good! I got to double use this book cause I also read it. I’ve talked about it in a book club I’m doing here. That was fun.
transition [00:04:33] [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
jessie [00:04:39] Time to talk about all things worldbuilding in “through the wardrobe.” So this story takes place in Mexico, at least in the beginning. And we haven’t read any books that take place there for this show. I really like that. It took place in the 1920s. We often get to see things like bootleggers in the United States or 1920s England and things like Downton Abbey. And I really like seeing the time period set. Some are different and set somewhere brown. I don’t think we really get that very often. But it was interesting to see, like, the influences of like American culture in like the flapper girls.
kelly [00:05:15] mmhmm.
jessie [00:05:16] and how some of those things changed when they were in a different country. I really enjoyed that part. Like, that was very interesting to me,.
kelly [00:05:25] Like just the creation of the ambiance and in general, right?
jessie [00:05:29] Yeah, it was great. It was like very glamorous. And because I think it’s a time period that we see very often in the United States depicted in movies and TV shows, it was like very easy to visualize what things look like when they’re like the Grand Hotel or those kinds of things or like depictions of like what the women are wearing or the dress styles. Those sorts of things I thought were really interesting.
kelly [00:05:54] Absolutely. On that note, I appreciate how much history is woven into the world building. For example, I really like this quote on page 83 there. So this is when Cassiopeia and Kamé are in Veracruz for Carnival and says, quote, “Vera Cruz has an African legacy. In this port, the slaves had been hauled off European ships and forced to toil in sugar plantations. Descendants of these slaves clustered in Yanga and Mandinga but had influenced the whole region, leaving its mark, leaving a mark on its cuisine. And like everyone else, they attended Carnival flooding the streets.” So I agree with you that it’s like it’s. The worldbuilding is at once so like historical and particular to a certain moment, but also a certain place and I– yeah. worldbuilding? Fantastic.
jessie [00:06:44] Yeah. It was also interesting. I think they– the author did a really good job of showing the difference between what it was like living in a small town versus living in the city. Like, so when Cassiopeia gets to, like, the bigger city, where did she go? Was a Veracruz? Was that the first place they went?
kelly [00:07:00] No. They go to Mérida.
jessie [00:07:02] OK. When they get there and there, she’s getting like the new clothes and stuff. Cassiopeia is talking about like how more of her legs are showing and like she can wear her hair uncovered and her hair gets cut, and that sort of thing. So it was really interesting to see the difference, like a lot changes between living in a small town, in a big city, even in like 1920s.
kelly [00:07:23] And then they go up to Mexico City, right?
jessie [00:07:26] I think so.
kelly [00:07:26] And then they also go even further up north to Baja California. Up to Tijuana.
jessie [00:07:33] Mm hmm.
kelly [00:07:33] I loved how we saw all the different, like landscapes and like ecosystems, I guess. Yeah. I just thought that the like geographically, like, really well described, like I could be there. You know?
jessie [00:07:47] Yeah, it was interesting. And for me, it was kind of cool because I’ve been to that part of California and Mexico, so I was like, “oh, I can kind of picture like what this looks like on their train ride”. Like, that was really cool to me.
kelly [00:07:58] And I had the– a similar thought about the Yucatan because we– I’ve been down there a few different times. And it’s just… I can attest to the fact that it’s like I com- totally a magical place. It’s just incredible. Hope I get to go back someday.
jessie [00:08:15] When we can travel.
kelly [00:08:16] Exactly.
jessie [00:08:17] Yeah.
transition [00:08:21] [spellcasting sound].
kelly [00:08:21] So this story, as I said at the top, is inspired by indigenous folklore from what we currently call Mexico, in particular, the Popol Vuh, which is– it recounts the creation story of the Quiché people, which is one of the groups of Maya Indigenous people. And so this is, I don’t know, I just I hadn’t read any fantasy inspired by this. And I’m I really want to read more because I love, like learning about these cultures in particular.
jessie [00:08:52] Yeah, I think it’s really cool and it’s like very fun. In school, at least for me, we were taught a lot about like Greek and Roman mythology, but it’s interesting to see how different people from different places, like their creation stories and their gods and goddesses and their um pantheon of gods, I guess, are so similar. I really enjoyed the folklore aspect of this story.
transition [00:09:16] [jaunty, staccato string music plays]
j & k [00:09:22] Wands out!
kelly [00:09:23] Let’s discuss all things magic!
jessie [00:09:25] We have Gods, Hun Kamé and Vucub Kamé. I’m probably going to butcher so many pronunciations. [kelly laughs] Let me just say that my Spanish is terrible.
kelly [00:09:36] It’s OK!
jessie [00:09:37] Kelly can attest.
kelly [00:09:38] You’re learning. Are you still on your Duolingo streak?
jessie [00:09:41] I’m on day 253 of my Duolingo streak. So my Spanish is coming along. Yeah, I can say very small phrases. I’m actually watching a TV show where the one of the characters goes in and out of Spanish and I’m like, “oh, I have so much to learn” because I just pick up like very small words. It’s called Altered Carbon And so the first season, if anyone’s interested, it’s fantasy sci fi. It’s really good. Anyways, so we have two gods, Hun Kamé and Vucub Kamé. They’re twin brothers, fighting it out, using human– humans to be the ruler of Xibalba. I really liked this. I think we see twins a lot in mythology, so it was cool to see it from a different aspects. And I think these gods are a little different than ones we see in Greek and Roman mythology in particular, because they don’t like… They don’t really care about people in the same way, like they need people to worship them, but they like don’t give two shits about it and they don’t.
kelly [00:10:48] Yeah. They need people’s adoration and sacrifice in order to keep going, right? That’s how their magic gains power. [chuckles] But I agree with you in that they are very they seem to be very callous to what happens to the humans.
jessie [00:11:02] Right. I really liked it because they you kind of see, like, the difference, like, they’re both gods, but they’re they obviously want to rule in different ways, which I think would talk a little bit about when we talk about villains. But Vucub Kamé wants to take over the human world and like murder everyone, which normally I’m on board with. But this time I was not [ both laugh].
kelly [00:11:24] In a shocking turn of events!
jessie [00:11:25] I know. I know.
kelly [00:11:27] Well, yeah. So, Vucub Kamé is upset that Xibalba is like– I guess that he’s lacking in power and is resigned to Xibalba and wants to like be worshiped again the world over. So, yeah, you’re right. I mean, it’s the idea of like conquest.
jessie [00:11:42] Well and it’s real, like sibling rivalry. Like I feel like you do see that with older and younger siblings, too. That seem– that was really realistic. Like older and younger siblings, like duke it out to be top spot sibling, you know?
kelly [00:11:55] [laughs] Yeah.
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kelly [00:11:59] So these gods have different powers that are, I guess, their signature, we could say. So the Vucub Kamé has the power of premonition. And for prophecy, right?
jessie [00:12:11] Yeah, but it’s it’s a little messier than what I think most people would think of.
kelly [00:12:16] Right.
jessie [00:12:16] Because he will see like different branches going in all directions and can’t see things relate directly related to himself.
kelly [00:12:24] Huh, yeah, that’s right. I thought– I appreciated the nuance that was given to this particular magical power rather than like, “oh yeah, I can see what’s gonna happen” Like, the future is determined.
jessie [00:12:34] Right. Yeah. It was more of like there’s a lot of different options that could happen and he can see all of them unless they relate to himself. Which like that. That’s good idea.
kelly [00:12:45] Yeah, that’s true. It’s a way of keeping it from being the power from being abused as much maybe.
jessie [00:12:49] Mm hmm.
kelly [00:12:50] And then Hun Kamé a has the power of illusion, which I thought that was that those descriptions were really beautiful. Like the I appreciated how Silvia Moreno Garcia was able to make the magic really feel very alive.
jessie [00:13:06] Yeah, I agree.
transition [00:13:07] [spellcasting sound]
kelly [00:13:11] We also meet a lot of other-than-human beings in the story. So not just gods, but also demons, ghosts, sorcerers. So a giant bat called the Kamazotz, and then some two-headed snakes, a psychopomp, which is like a smoke ghost being thing. So I–.
jessie [00:13:28] Like a wraith, kind of.
kelly [00:13:29] Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good way of putting it. Like an ifrit maybe?
jessie [00:13:33] Yeah. And that those goat- goat men? [laughs]
kelly [00:13:36] Yeah! The goat people. The goat brothers.
jessie [00:13:40] Yeah. They were bad. [kelly laughs].
transition [00:13:41] [spellcasting sound]
jessie [00:13:46] There’s a quote on page 104 that says it says “He was vain, hun Kamé, as gods always are, and loved to be exalted.” I really liked this idea of the gods and how much they lo– like how much they need love and attention. I don’t think… I think we all think of like gods in different ways. But I think for the most part, they all just like needs so much love and attention and adoration, like no matter no matter what religion you’re from. [kelly laughs] So I really liked this description of how the gods exist. I appreciated it,.
kelly [00:14:19] definitely.
jessie [00:14:19] – for lots of reasons. But it was funny to me, and just like so on point, I really enjoyed that,.
kelly [00:14:27] Very honest. And it seems like it transcends, you know, the different geographic particularities.
jessie [00:14:33] For sure
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jessie [00:14:37] We also see Cassiopeia is worried about sinning by the Christian definition, when Hun Kamé comes out, like when his body comes back from just the bones, cuz he’s like just there and naked. And she’s like, “I can’t look! Like God will be mad” [both laugh] Even though she is literally meeting a god who does not fit into the Christian definition of religion in any way, shape or form.
kelly [00:14:59] Right.
jessie [00:15:00] I thought that was really funny to see her journey as she goes from one religion into like probably a more skeptical person with a wider world view. Because she– I mean, she literally has proof that at least some other gods exist, even if the Christian one does still exist. I just thought that was really funny and interesting to me how how people can be in that, like in a mindset. And it’s like hard to move away from that.
kelly [00:15:27] Yeah, we do witness that, like, throughout the entire story, right? Her journey where she starts questioning more and more things. And I like that you brought this up because it, I think, reveals an important point that it’s not like Christianity, like the colonizers’ religion comes and wipes out everything else. Like there are– like there’s this like maybe a super-positioning, but like quite literally, like the colonizers would tear down temples and then use the stones and the carvings and everything to reconstruct their churches. So I. Yeah, I appreciated how it shows that these different worldviews and like belief systems are existing like in relation to one another.
jessie [00:16:16] Yeah, and I don’t I don’t know that we’ve read a book with Hoodoo in it, but when you look at like that, like it’s a mixture of Christianity and like African religions. So you kind of see sometimes we’re like these two religions will kind of come together and they they can live together in one space and even in like a person’s mind-space where you like, two things can come together at once and be there simultaneously. Even though they don’t, they maybe don’t always like mesh very well.
kelly [00:16:45] Mmhmm
j & k [00:16:47] Wands away!
transition [00:16:47] [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
jessie [00:16:52] Now we’re going to talk about conflict, villains and good versus evil in our segment, “Get Me Kylo Ren!”
kelly [00:16:59] This reminded me of the Leigh Bardugo quote that you put on one of our Instagram posts.
jessie [00:17:06] Oh, yeah!
kelly [00:17:07] [quoting] “What is infinite?”
jessie [00:17:09] Yeah.
kelly [00:17:10] What was it? Something and the greed of men?
jessie [00:17:13] “The universe and the greed of men”
kelly [00:17:16] So true. And I thought this was especially relevant to Cirilio, who is the grandfather figure. The patriarch of the family, shall we say. That’s the reason that he did a deal with the Lord of Xibalba, or one of the lords of Xibalba, in the first place was to gain wealth and power.
jessie [00:17:36] Yeah, I really hated that grandfather.
kelly [00:17:38] Such an asshole!
jessie [00:17:40] Like, just the worst! Didn’t like him at all.
jessie [00:17:46] I think throughout the story, Vucub Kamé is understood to be the villain. But by the end, you see that it’s the mistreatment of one another between Hun Kamé and Vucub Kamé that caused this mess in the first place. And I think we see that reflected in the relationship with Cassiopeia and Martín, showing that broken family relationships are the real issues at play here. And we see it because Cassiopeia and Mar– Martín, they are in this like push-and-pull relationship where Cas– like where their grandfather obviously favors Cassiopeia and Martín is very like angry about that. And you can understand why. She came in. She’s– he didn’t know her. Those kind of things. But you also see it with Hun Kamé and Vucub Kamé where they think things should be done different in a different way in Xibalba. So I really like how the relationship between the two families is reflected in one another. I thought that was really cool.
kelly [00:18:47] That is super cool! Yeah, we do have these sort of like two pairs, you know, that are foils for each other.
jessie [00:18:54] Mmhmm.
kelly [00:18:54] And there is, I thought, a very satisfying resolution in the relationships. Right? That we– we see it’s not just like straight up domination, victory over the other the bad guy, like dies. That’s not as easy as that. Like we see Cassiopeia and Martín actually discussing and like going through some sort of process of repair,.
jessie [00:19:17] right.
kelly [00:19:17] Which I thought was really interesting to have that play out in the novel itself like that. That’s an important decision, rather than just saying they never saw each other again. We see Martín, like, kind of start this journey, I guess, of possibly becoming less of a douche.
jessie [00:19:34] Right. Well, and I think part of that, too, is that we see like just because someone does some bad things doesn’t mean necessarily mean they can’t be forgiven for those things or can’t make amends. Like Cassiopeia doesn’t kill him. And Martín doesn’t feel like he can kill her. So they kind of come to like a mutual understanding of each other and realize, like maybe we can’t be in in this space together, like we don’t get along. We don’t really like each other. But it doesn’t mean that we need to necessarily murder each other.
kelly [00:20:01] Exactly. Like a truce.
jessie [00:20:05] Yeah, yeah.
transition [00:20:06] [spellcasting sound]
kelly [00:20:09] I wanna mention duality a little bit in this section, because I think. I’m curious to hear what you think. But I have this feeling that it gets positioned as like a villain in and of itself. Like a dualistic vision is something that you’re not supposed to have or it’s reductive or something. But I appreciated this non-AngloEuropean or like a nonwhite view of duality and how duality isn’t like in itself a villain. Even though that that sentiment, I think, gets tossed around a lot.
jessie [00:20:41] What do you– what do you mean by duality?
kelly [00:20:43] Like there’s a lot of talk about why Hun Kamé and Vucub Kamé both need to exist.
jessie [00:20:50] Oh, I see.
kelly [00:20:51] Right? And like the– I’m also thinking of the concept of like yin and yang. You know, these sort of concepts of… That are binaries that arise out of like these different geographies like that are indigenous to these different geographies and how they’re not like as violent, I guess, as duality when it’s deployed by the quote unquote, west or white people, basically.
jessie [00:21:14] Mm hmm.
kelly [00:21:16] I don’t know. I just thought that that was… that piqued my interest.
jessie [00:21:22] Yeah, this is especially interesting in this instance, because I’m not really sure Hun Kamé or Vucub Kamé like I’m not really sure either of them are like, quote unquote good people. [chuckles]
kelly [00:21:32] [in agreement] No!
jessie [00:21:33] I know they’re not people, but like… I think in like a white sense, people would think of them as, like demons. Like they’re they’re like the devil and like the devil’s right hand person, I guess.
kelly [00:21:45] Right.
jessie [00:21:47] But like maybe that the dead need to go somewhere. Like, where do they go? They go to Xibalba. Right? That’s how it works?
kelly [00:21:54] Yeah.
jessie [00:21:56] Yeah. So it’s interesting because I think. Yeah. I think you’re right in that we have like this dichotomy of like God and the devil and like Western society. Whereas like other peoples might not have that same thing. Is that kind of what you mean?
kelly [00:22:14] Yeah, I think God and the devil is one instance like of this, like one way that Western culture deploys duality.
jessie [00:22:21] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
kelly [00:22:22] And used to evangelize and inflict a lot of violences. Right?
jessie [00:22:26] Right. Yeah for sure.
kelly [00:22:27] Rather than this view of duality as like, these are forces that are in need of one another in order to create balance, I guess.
jessie [00:22:35] Yeah, that makes sense. I like that. [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
kelly [00:22:42] Onward, magical friends! Just as one does not simply walk into Mordor, one does not simply read fantasy without talking about representations of race, class, gender, ability, coloniality, etc, etc.. This is our segment about power and bodies and how they relate.
kelly [00:22:58] Race slash, ethnicity slash… There’s a lot of blurred lines, I think, with like coloniality, indigeneity, race, ethnicity in this novel.
jessie [00:23:08] Yeah, I would agree with that. Pretty early on in the book, Cassiopeia mentions that her family is proud of their European and European heritage, which makes Martín look pale, and that she is looked down on for being darker. Obviously, this is an instance of colorism, which we see in a lot of communities. And I was glad that Moreno-Garcia included this in the book, because I think sometimes these narratives get left out of the communities that are not just like Black communities. So it was interesting to see it, especially given the current state of events. We’re recording this episode in early June . So lots going on in the world right now.
kelly [00:23:55] Yeah. [pauses] I agree with you that Moreno-Garcia very deftly makes these systemic injustices like they are also a part of the world building, I guess, because they’re structuring how the relationships work and how. Yeah. Cassiopeia interacts with other people. Sure. We should mention that her father was an indigenous person, right? Was indigenous. And then he died. And so then she lives went with her mother to her mother’s father, a.k.a. her grandfather, Cirilio’s house. Right?
jessie [00:24:29] Correct.
kelly [00:24:31] Yeah. And how that being indigenous or part indigenous is ,arked visibly, I guess. Which we would, I guess, think of as race. And and then we see, like you say, like you discussed, you know, Cassiopeia, that that affects how she moves through the world.
jessie [00:24:51] Right. And I think– I’m pretty sure that Cassiopeia is mother, her family disowned her because she married someone who is indigenous. That was the sense I think I got from this story.
kelly [00:25:03] OK, yeah, I think you’re right. And it’s even like mentioned in small ways. Like whitening creams advertised to women, you know? Just like these little tidbits here and there that just so like the banality, I guess, of racism and white supremacy.
jessie [00:25:19] It’s everywhere, people.
transition [00:25:21] [spellcasting sound]
jessie [00:25:24] Class, let’s talk about class. So we get to see a lot of opulent places as we travel with Car– Cassiopeia and Hun Kamé, but there is a class divide between them as a god and human– that we see breakdown as Hank made becomes more human. But we also see it in Cassiopeia’s relationship with her own family. She’s basically a servant to her family, not her mom, but her Grandfather, her aunts and Martín.
kelly [00:25:52] It’s essentially a position of like domestic slavery.
jessie [00:25:56] Yeah. And it’s because her family’s poor and her grandfather has apparently promised her all this money. But it turns out maybe that’s a lie. So he’s like holding that over her. It was interesting to see the family dynamics and how class can play out within that. But then we also obviously see it with a God and like so a supernatural being, any human work. I mean, Hun Kamé can pretty much get whatever he wants. He gets her all these clothes. They’re going. They’re saying at these lavish hotels–.
kelly [00:26:28] He knows all these people who also have access to all these resources. That’s exactly how class works.
jessie [00:26:34] Yeah. They’re on these private train car things, you know? Like I mean, it was really cool to see, like. But also, like, obviously a class divide between the two of them.
kelly [00:26:44] Mm hmm. [pauses] I really liked how we see a depiction, a very detailed depiction of Carnival. And it’s such an important tradition, especially with the permissioning to fuck with hierarchies. But only the caveat is that we do this for a short time and then the hegemonic power structures enter into force again. And so I really appreciated how, um, like the sustained discussion of Carnival’s implications on a– on like a social level, like in interactions between people. So here’s a quote from page 83 that I thought was illuminating. Quote, “There were black skinned men dressed as skeletons, indigenous women in embroidered blouses, light skinned brunets playing the part of mermaids, pale men in Roman guard– garb. Once Carnival was over, the fairer skinned wealthier inhabitants of the city might look with disdain at the, quote, ‘Indians’ and, quote, ‘blacks’. But for the night, there was a polite truce in the elaborate game of class division.” I think this quote illustrates how race, class, ethnicity, coloniality, indigeneity, like it’s all intersecting.
jessie [00:27:53] Yeah, I would agree with that for sure.
transition [spellcasting sound]
kelly [00:27:58] Kind of going off of that, I would say that cologne reality is incredibly salient in this novel as compared to some of the other ones that we’ve read. We see that the racial and ethnic hierarchies at play in the re– in early 20th century Mexico as one of the many legacies of European colonization. And we also see, like the cultural syncretism. You mentioned this in the worldbuilding at the beginning. Like the descriptions of the clothing, the food, the hairstyles, the lifestyle choices in the city versus the country, et cetera. I thought that coloniality is a really important aspect that determines a lot of those things.
jessie [00:28:32] Yeah, I agree. I do wonder what– like how America influences other nations. It’s it’s hard because obviously Mexico is so close, you know? But they did mention a couple of times, like the American flappers, like bootleggers, that sort of thing. So I don’t know much about Mexican history or for that matter, that much about American history during that time period. So I do wonder how, like how America becomes this like force that influences other countries, like through media at that time. I should have looked into that more because that that seems like interesting. Like, how does that happen?
kelly [00:29:13] Well, I think it’s partially because there’s so many white people in upper echelons of Mexican society at the time. Thanks, Colonialism. Right?
jessie [00:29:21] Right.
kelly [00:29:23] Um And then like the glamorous lifestyles of the U.S.. like, that’s what’s aspirational to those cohorts of society. And so then they import it and they start reproducing it in Mexico City or in Veracruz or wherever. And there’s this… There’s a lot of… Mexico’s from… In the early nineteen hundreds. Has a really rich history. Like the…. [pauses]… [exasperated] Ugh I should’ve pregamed harder for this. It’s been a while since a seminar about Mexican history, but, um, like the Mexican Revolution happened in the early nineteen hundreds. Man, I hope I’m not fucking this up. [pauses] Let’s look at let’s use the Internet. What do you think, Jessie?
jessie [00:30:13] Use the Internet, Internet away!
kelly [00:30:15] Exactly. Um… And the 1920s is also interesting because of it’s like a moment of like this explosion of leftist and revolutionary thought with anarchists, socialists, communists, et cetera, et cetera. Like a lot of exiles, political exiles. And so they’re like coming together in these like hubs like Mexico City, too, you know? So that’s sort of… Like I think we get this idea of the cosmopolitan 1920s as only happening in AngloEuropean places. And that’s– like this novel shows that that’s not the case.
jessie [00:30:54] Right. Oh, that fits so well with Peaky Blinders! [chuckles]
kelly [00:30:58] It did. Like they mentioned the Cristero Rebellion in the book, which I, you know. [pauses] We’ll include, like some resources in the show notes about some more of the history, because there’s… I think that this is one of those books where if you have that already, then the reading is even richer because these references mean more to you than those of us who are maybe coming to some of this information for the first time. It requires a little bit more work. And it’s worth it.
jessie [00:31:31] Right.
kelly [00:31:31] I think. But it is more work.
jessie [00:31:34] Right.
kelly [00:31:35] I think it’s important to put point out that indigeneity in the region is not monolithic, and the author insists on this various times. And I appreciated that. [pauses] And I think that the novel…I guess I’m I’m curious whether you think that the novel makes a direct link between European colonization and the diminishment of Hun Kamé’s and Vucub Kamé’s powers. I kind of assumed this was the case because the gods get their power from being worshiped in prayer and rituals, like i.e., through various kinds of sacrifices, which would have decreased if people are being evangelized and converted to Christianity. So that’s kind of how I made sense of that. But I’m curious if that’s what you thought too.
jessie [00:32:24] Yeah, I didn’t really make that connection. And I and I do think part of that is because I don’t have enough knowledge about the history of the region. You know, I have some, but also I’m from the south, so it’s super whitewashed. And like [laughs].
kelly [00:32:40] right.
jessie [00:32:40] [sarcastically] “slaves just appeared here. Like, I don’t know where they came from. They were just here and they were happy about it.” That’s what I learned in school.
kelly [00:32:49] Ughhhh.
jessie [00:32:51] yeah. But anyways, I do think that is a really good point. And I think you’re probably right to make those connections. It makes the most sense when you think about it, because I don’t think religions just fall out of style. People are converted to something else. Or f– forced into something else.
kelly [00:33:13] Right.
jessie [00:33:14] Probably.
kelly [00:33:14] More likely in this situation.
jessie [00:33:18] So, yeah, I think that’s that’s a really good connection to make. I didn’t make that. But I think that’s probably correct.
transition [00:33:27] [spellcasting sound].
kelly [00:33:27] Let’s talk about gender!
jessie [00:33:29] In this story, Cassiopeia is expected to do as Martín asks her, because she is a girl. And this was just like it, I mean, one, because she’s a girl, but also because of her class status within the family. So, you know, intersectionality. And this was like, the way he treated her was so terrible, I was like,” I’m gonna murder him. She should have murdered him [laughing]Yeah, it was pretty bad.
kelly [00:33:58] Are you taking back your rosy…um? I dunno [trails off]
jessie [00:34:02] I was just trying to be kind in that moment. I didn’t really, like, obviously, she should murder him. You know? It just makes things simpler. [kelly laughs] In a world where people could get away with murder. I would have murdered a lot of.
kelly [00:34:16] Certain people can, hey! I think that’s the whole fucking point.
jessie [00:34:20] Well, OK. Yeah, I cannot.
kelly [00:34:21] No, no. [jessie chuckles]
kelly [00:34:25] One thing I think that this novel really dialogues a lot about is toxic masculinity and how much it sucks! And also it points out that role models matter. I didn’t particularly, like, look forward to the chapters from Martín’s point of view, but there were some illuminating passages, such as the one on page 134. Quote, “As a man, he already saw himself as worthy of praise. As a Leyva, child of the wealthiest family in town, his ego grew inflated. There was little he could not do, from berating the servants to lording over his female cousins and sisters as if he were the ruler of a principality. His grandfather was a bitter tyrant, and Martín copied his mannerisms, feeling disappointed with his father, who was a much more placid fellow, meek, gray and subdued by the patriarch. Rather than imitate his father, then, he took after the grandfather. He considered himself the future man of the house, the undisputed macho of the Leyva clan.” And I, I like this quote because it shows how, like, this is– this one version of masculinity is taught. Like it’s not just like inherited, you know, it’s it’s learned it’s learned behaviors over the course of a long period of time.
jessie [00:35:35] Yeah, and I think that brings up a good point in that sometimes maybe… Martín’s a little too old for this, but maybe giving younger people a little more room to grow, because sometimes I think the things that we see in them as they grow up are probably more of a….um…. Are more affected by their parents than we realize. So, as they grow up and learn these terrible things, they become people who believe these terrible things. So, sometimes I think that maybe give young people a little more space to grow. Talk to them, that kind of thing. Who your parents are and who your role models are and who your family is makes a big difference in how you see the world.
transition [00:36:23] [spellcasting sound]
kelly [00:36:26] I have a comment that explicitly bridges class and gender because, well, Cassiopeia, anytime we talk about her, that’s what we’re doing. But, I appreciated how the novel through Cassiopeia’s voice is self-aware in particular of the resemblance to Cinderella at the beginning of the book. And I– I liked how the voice was, like the narrative voice, was calling out what readers might be assuming in the text itself. And then complicating that assumption or like course correcting.
jessie [00:36:56] Mm hmm, yeah. I think the novel did a really good job of showing, like, I feel like the fairy tale of Cinderella kind of shows like this meek, mild person, whereas Cassiopeia is like punching Martín in the face. [both laugh] Like I was like–.
kelly [00:37:14] Such a mood!!
jessie [00:37:15] –that I was… I loved it¡ she was she’s a real strong character.
kelly [00:37:19] Yeah.
jessie [00:37:20] A woman after my own heart. [laughs]
kelly [00:37:22] Totally true.
jessie [00:37:25] I really appreciated that. Yeah. She she’s very different than I think some some of the characters we get, especially in like [pauses] mmmm, Hans Christian Andersen, Grimm’s Fairy Tales kind of stories.
transition [00:37:36] [spellcasting sound]
jessie [00:37:40] In the story, we see that the grandfather says he wishes Cassiopeia was a boy in front of Martín because then he could, you know, be more proud of her, which confirms to Martín that boys are better than girls, but also that the grandfather can’t prefer Cassiopeia because she’s a girl. This is really complicated by all things related to gender. But it also really ingrains that into Martín that he– he has to be better than any woman he ever encounters because simply by the fact that he is a man.
kelly [00:38:10] Eye roll!
jessie [00:38:10] And I was just like, “ugh, yeah, like what a terrible grandfather!” Grandpas are supposed to be nice and sweet and old. This guy is like the worst.
kelly [00:38:22] He’s only one of those things. Only old, not nice or sweet.
jessie [00:38:26] I know. It made me sad that she had such a terrible grandpa. Like, she can’t even call me grandpa. She calls him grandfather, like, ew.
kelly [00:38:35] So formal.
jessie [00:38:38] I can’t even imagine.
transition [00:38:43] [spellcasting sound].
kelly [00:38:43] We get a little bit of I think some discussion of ability in the novel when we think about how, thanks to the bone shard and her finger, Cassiopeia’s life force is diminishing over the course of the novel because she’s giving it to Hun Kamé in order for him to, like, stay in his body. And so then she gets weaker and more tired and she carries on anyway. Which I found very relatable as a chronically ill, immunocompromised person who’s like, “yeah, you gotta like–.
jessie [00:39:11] She’s a fellow spoonie!
kelly [00:39:12] She is! You just gotta do it anyway.
jessie [00:39:16] Yeah, it’s tough. It’s a tough world to be sick in it. Yeah. I actually really liked that because I think Moreno-Garcia did a good job of showing that slowly over time. Like, I don’t really know how much time passes over the course of the novel, but I can’t imagine it’s more than like a month, maybe. But she did a good job of showing slowly over time Cassiopeia becoming weaker and weaker. And I thought that was [clears throat] really well done.
kelly [00:39:47] Well, I guess maybe we should nuance it and say, like she’s physically weaker in her bodymind, but she’s questioning more things. She seems more convicted. She’s falling in love.
jessie [00:39:58] Yeah.
kelly [00:39:58] Etc..
jessie [00:39:59] Her body just isn’t keeping up with what she needed it to do.
kelly [00:40:04] cuz she’s given all of her quite literal energy to this dude!
jessie [00:40:09] Don’t give them your energy. Keep it for yourself! [kelly laughs].
kelly [00:40:13] Cut off your hand. Just kidding.
jessie [00:40:15] I mean, I probably would have if I’m being honest, I’m like, “bitch. Bye!” [kelly laughs]
kelly [00:40:21] “Excuse me. I did not sign up for this”.
jessie [00:40:23] I did not. It was really nice of her to do this. And she’s like, literally saving like all the people in that region like that. I think the last place they go is Yucatan. Yeah.
kelly [00:40:34] no, Yucatan is where they come from.
jessie [00:40:37] Oh, where’s the last place she’d go?
kelly [00:40:39] Baja California. Tijuana.
jessie [00:40:40] OK. Yeah. So if she doesn’t do this, like all the people in that region like become… Vucub Kamé is like building up a temple and it’s gonna murder all these people. So she’s kind of saving the world.
kelly [00:40:50] She really is.
jessie [00:40:52] Good for her.
kelly [00:40:52] What a hero.
transition [00:40:53] [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
jessie [00:40:59] Finally, it’s time for “Shipwrecked,” a segment about asexuality, sexuality, sex, romance and relationships. And sometimes we take some liberties and do some shipping of our own. So I don’t know how you could be on any other ship in this story other than Cassiopeia and Hun Kamé. Like, I don’t know that I want them to be together, but they they want to be together. Not enough to actually be together because, like, the world will fall apart if they do. Which means we don’t get a happily ever after, like in the sense that we normally get in most of the books we read, which I thought was well done.
kelly [00:41:32] I did think that it was happy at the end in that, like Cassiopeia is more liberated. And she has like a demon sidekick to go–.
jessie [00:41:41] Yes.
kelly [00:41:42] –learn how to drive. I liked how it was like an open ending for the protagonist rather than like…. And then they lived happily ever after. Like no it’s like, OK. She went through this bit…. A lot of the stuff, she had her first love, who was a God. That was a lot. And now she’s, you know, moving on. I appreciated that. But it like wasn’t the end of her world.
jessie [00:42:03] Yeah. Right. I don’t know how she will– like how is anyone ever going to live up to like, “Oh yeah. I used to date this dude. He was a God, like literally”. Like nobody’s living. It’s good thing they didn’t have sex because they probably would have been like mind shattering and then she’s like fucked forever. [both laugh].
transition [00:42:20] [spellcasting sound]
kelly [00:42:26] There is lots of pining, which we typically like on the show. We stan.
jessie [00:42:30] Yeah. And I– actually really likeed how like Hun Kamé goes from, like, very standoffish to like there’s something innate about humans that makes them want to be with other humans. Like there’s like kind of a differentiation there–
kelly [00:42:45] Yeah.
jessie [00:42:46] –that I really enjoyed for some reason. I used this other series that is a Greek mythology related, and I like really loved. Like they are all romances. But I just I like that dynamic for some reason it’s like cool. I don’t know. I enjoyed it.
kelly [00:43:02] Me too. [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
kelly [00:43:08] Now we’re going to talk about writing style narration, characterization and plot structure and basically whatever else comes to mind in a segment called “Kill Your Darlings”.
jessie [00:43:17] The writing in this story felt very literary. I know as an English major, that should be like my thing. It’s not really [kelly laughs] I don’t know why. Why did I major in English? It’s like kind of weird.
kelly [00:43:27] cuz you like reading.
jessie [00:43:29] I know, but it was a change up from some of the other fantasy novels we’ve read. I would say we did read. Oh, the marrow thieves is another one. Right. That was very literary. I guess I just don’t like that writing style. Maybe? [chuckles] Which is fine.
kelly [00:43:46] I think that you have specific tastes with regard to pacing. That–
jessie [00:43:53] Yes.
kelly [00:43:54] –affect a lot of things.
jessie [00:43:56] Yes. Oh, funny enough, they’re both– they were also both travel stories.
kelly [00:43:59] Exactly! and more about like the landscape as a character in the world, as a character and less about like “we’re gonna go do all these cool things.” So, yeah, we could see where our tastes differ.
jessie [00:44:12] Yeah, I think I mean, we also need to be in the mindset for it.
kelly [00:44:18] right.
jessie [00:44:18] Like, it’s hard to go. OK, so I read this right after we hunt the flame. So it’s hard to go from something super action packed and then jump into something that’s a slower pace. Yeah,.
kelly [00:44:28] I liked the– the literary aspect of it. Again, I think it’s because it’s an adult fantasy and not YA. I think that’s part of it. I loved the imagery, the use of simile and metaphor. And, you know, I’m all about that star shit! so space, the universe, astrophysics, astronomy, astrology, astrophotography, like I love all that stuff. So I absolutely adored how much the stars figured into the story. And it makes a lot of sense to me, given that the Maya were such badass astronomers.
transition [00:44:57] [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
jessie [00:45:02] Recommend, if you like…. I didn’t have any great one-to-one read-alikes for this one, so I use my future librarian powers to look some up. And if you like this book, you might also like City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty, which we’ve read. And I would recommend you can listen to the episode for that, if you’d like.
kelly [00:45:21] Hundred percent.
jessie [00:45:22] Yeah. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, which is a feature podcast book, and Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende.
transition [00:45:30] [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
kelly [00:45:35] Before we end. It’s time for a real talk. Did making this book… What??? [laughs].
jessie [00:45:40] [laughing] “Did making this book” [laughs]
kelly [00:45:42] before we end it’s time “did making this book change your perspective?” [jessie chuckles] No. OK. So fuck it. We, were– [pauses] This is the segment where we talk about stuff. Deep stuff. deep cuts.
jessie [00:45:58] hard shit.
kelly [00:45:58] The hard shit. I think that we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the importance of symbolism because that’s like a through line. But it doesn’t matter how expensive the tool is, right, that you’re making magic with. It matters the symbolism, which I liked cuz it was like a anticapitalist. I appreciate that. And I also liked– this is just me nerding out but– we see emotions of other than human beings because the descriptions of how the gods feel is very different from how the humans feel. And like affect theory was central to my dissertation, so this might not be… might only only be interesting to a very niche audience. But I thought that– that was like fascinating to me, the descriptions of the emotions, but like, they’re not human. They were defamiliarized very well, I thought.
jessie [00:46:50] I don’t have anything. So….[both laugh] Actually, I do. This made me realize that I need to brush up on my histories of other places.
kelly [00:46:59] Yeah.
jessie [00:47:01] Yeah, I should do that. I don’t– I need to figure out how to begin [chuckles] I have no idea.
jessie [00:47:09] I’ll do some–.
jessie [00:47:10] Kelly will–.
kelly [00:47:11] –resources in the show notes.
jessie [00:47:11] Kelly will put resources in the show notes and I will use those to further my education.
kelly [00:47:18] I’m also like a teacher, so I should be able to fuckin figure it out. How to make this accessible.
jessie [00:47:24] Between the two of us, yeah. [both laugh].
transition [00:47:25] [jaunty, stacatto string music plays]
jessie [00:47:32] Thanks for listening to JK, It’s Magic. We’ll be back in two weeks for a discussion of CHILDREN OF VIRTUE AND VENGEANCE by Tomie Adeyemi.
kelly [00:47:38] Finally!!!
jessie [00:47:40] I know I’m so excited! As always, we love to be in conversation with you magical folks. Let us know what you think of the episode, anything we missed or just say ‘hi’ by dropping a line in the comments or be reaching out to us on Twitter or Instagram @jkmagicpod. And you can post or tweet about the show using the hashtag critically reading, and you can contact us via email at jkmagicpod at gmail dot com.
kelly [00:48:02] You can subscribe to JK, It’s Magic on the podcast app of your choice. And we’d mega a bazillion times appreciate it if you would rate and review the show. And also spread the word to other rad people out there who you think would enjoy it. If you’re interested in supporting us, you can make a one-time donation on Ko-fi. You can also support us monthly on Patreon in exchange for a bunch of really cool shit like minisodes, bonus eps, swag and much more. And our discord!
kelly [00:48:27] Kelly is recording on Cheyenne, Ute and Arapaho Land. Jessie is recording on Peoria, Kaskaskia, Peankashaw, Wea, Miami, Mascoutin, Odawa, Sak, Mesquawki, Kickapoo, Potawotamie, Ojibwe and Chickasaw Land. Until next time. Stay magical.
transition [00:49:06] [bright, whimsical music plays].
jessie [00:49:06] Hello! And welcome to JK, It’s Magic, bi-weekly podcast in which to bookish bestes discuss mostly YA fantasy through the lens of intersectional feminist criti– critical– [pauses] [kelly laughs] See! There we go! Bloopers.