By: Angie Haddock
The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.
This book starts out in the tiny village of Uukumil, in the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico, in the year 1927. Our heroine, Casiopea Tun, is a teenager living in her grandfather’s household, alongside her widowed mother and various members of her extended family.
Casiopea is practically a slave to her grandfather, and is looked down upon by other members of her family. She is darker, with partially indigenous heritage, and her mother came back home poor. Casiopea waits on her cranky old grandfather hand and foot. Her older cousin, Martín, is the rightful heir to the family homestead and reputation – he’s male, after all – and he is constantly mean to her. She dreams of getting out into the world someday, but assumes this will always be just a dream.
One day, while the rest of the family is away, she opens a trunk that has always sat near her grandfather’s bed. Shockingly, the bones inside reassemble themselves into a man – of sorts. He has a commanding presence, but does not look like most men she’s met before. He’s also missing a few parts.
Hun-Kamé, who claims he is the rightful ruler of the Underworld, Xibalba, was imprisoned decades ago in this trunk. He was disassembled by his brother, and left to Casiopea’s grandfather for safe keeping. But now that he’s free, he must travel to other regions to find all his missing parts, then face his brother to reclaim his throne. And Casiopea is going with him.
So, one fun aspect of this book is all the mythology involved. We also have a road trip aspect, which is great for our main character, because she has always wanted to get away. A lot of it is an ode to the landscapes, both within Mexico and along the Mexico-US border, and to the era – women cutting their hair short, riding in an automobile for the first time, etc.
The full description also mentions that it’s a love story, and that had me worried. Our main character is a young-seeming teen, and her travel companion is an immortal god. Of death. So, that seems creepy. But, Hun-Kamé has never had to live like a human before, so inevitably he comes away learning as much from Casiopea as she does from him (or, their travels overall). This aspect makes him a lot less intimidating, to both Casiopea and the reader.
Our big final battle takes shape as a race down the Black Road, the main road in Xibalba that leads to the palace. The usurper brother had chosen Martín as his proxy, and Hun-Kamé has Casiopea as his. This part of the story doesn’t really get started until about 80% in, so the traveling and getting close to the main characters are truly the bulk of the book.
No, I won’t tell you how it ends. But it’s surprisingly emotional.
If you’re into fantasy stories with some real world geography thrown in, this one might be for you.