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Gods of Jade and Shadow: 09/07/19
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is Mayan urban fantasy set in 1927. It's a great read for anyone who has enjoyed Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper and Raúl the Third (2015), Labyrinth Lost (2017) by Zoraida Córdova or the animé, The Ancient Magus Bride (2018) but want something more. Although I'm listing a middle grade and a YA book as thematic reads, Moreno-Garcia's novel is written for adults.
Casiopea Tun lives in the small Yucatan village a tram's ride away from the city of Merida. She's trapped being the servant to her cousin, aunt, uncle, and grandfather. One day, left alone with the house to herself, she decides to investigate her grandfather's forbidden trunk. Expecting gold, she's surprised to find bones. When she pricks herself on a bone shard, she's further shocked to find the bones rebuilding themselves into a very handsome and dangerous god — Hun-Kamé. He's been ousted by his brother and her grandfather from Xibalba and needs Casiopea's help to undo this injustice.
Before they can travel to the underworld for the final confrontation, he must find the remaining parts that his brother has hidden across Mexico: his ear, his finger, his eye. To do that, requires a road trip!
I didn't read this book for the road narrative project but it fits solidly in the spectrum. While Casiopea and Hun-Kamé aren't lovers in this book (even if he is lust-worthy), they are connected magically via the bone shard in her thumb. They are coupled by his magic and her blood. Therefore they have to travel together (33).
The destination is ultimately Xibalba, or more specifically, the Jade Palace. Going there as a living person is impossible without magical help. Thus, the destination is utopia — a no place (FF).
But the route to Xibalba won't open until all of the god's parts are found. As this is a modern, twentieth century setting, the most efficient way for the two to travel (save for the brief boat route from Progresso to Veracruz) is via tram and train. Like The Inn Between by Marina Cohen (2016), we have another "safe" / detour-free route to the underworld, albeit different ones.
One side note on the route, while I said his parts were scattered across Mexico — I should say "old Mexico" as the novel in 1927 after Mexico lost some of its land to the United States. The last half of their route takes the across the border.
Put all together, The Gods of Jade and Shadow is the tale of a magically entwined couple traveling to utopia via the railroad. Following along on their journey, it helps to know Mexican geography, although one can also use Google Maps.
While this book is a standalone, it does end with a hook, with Casiopea deciding to explore more of the world alongside a supernatural being she meets on her journey. At this time, per the author's blog, there is no plan to make any more books in this world. But there's enough of a hook for us to imagine her in the world traveling along the edge of the mundane and the supernatural. We'll leave those adventures to the fanfic writers.