I think this is a case of a book that’s not to my taste, rather than a book that’s not good. It definitely reads as a fairy tale, in that way where the characters are not as rich and three-dimensional as I prefer. Casiopea Tun, the protagonist, begins as a Cinderella-like character: left impoverished when her father died when she was young, she and her mother were forced to move in with a wealthy relative, where she’s treated with disdain and forced to do all these chores all day and no one ever sticks up for her or recognises her merits. Her cousin, Martín, is a major antagonist: he’s an arrogant, small-minded man just full of jealousy for Casiopea.
Casiopea accidentally frees a Mayan death god from the box in which he’d been trapped, and has no choice but to leave her miserable home behind and accompany him on a quest to restore him to the throne of Xibalba, the underworld. The quest itself takes place across 1920s Mexico, but I kind of feel like the time period was less apparent than I’d been led to believe it would be. The social attitudes of the time (e.g. the misogyny and the privileging of white Mexicans over mestizo and indigenous ones) come through, and it’s also clearly a time period where interstate railway travel and telegraphs are in use… so I’m not sure what more I really expected, except that the section set in Mexico City made reference to flappers and jazz clubs and things, and I guess I kind of hoped more of the book would feel more rooted in a specific time like that.
Casiopea herself is an example of the “beautiful girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful” trope, and the romance that unfolds over the book didn’t convince me. Despite this, it was the last third or so of the book that I probably found the most gripping (for a lot of the earlier parts, I found my mind wandering constantly as I tried to read it instead). I guess this is where more of the Mayan mythology comes out, and despite the fact that I didn’t buy the romance in the first place, the characters were forced to make some tough choices in this section which at least gave me something to care about.
Overall, I feel like this is a fine book for a different type of reader than me. If you’re more interested in plot-centric tales, epic quests and mythology, then you’ll probably enjoy this. I just didn’t find that there was enough of a “hook” to get me into it. I’m a little disappointed, because I loved Mexican Gothic by the same author, but it is what it is. Moreno-Garcia has emphasised that all her books have a very different “feel” from one another, so my experience with this one certainly would not put me off reading more of her work.