Review: Velvet Was the Night (Moreno-Garcia)

Velvet Was the Night

I have something shocking to tell you. I read a book that does not contain magic!


That gasp is fitting for another reason: Velvet Was the Night lives in an interesting space between noir and historical fiction. Written by the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow (a heart-breaking favorite of mine) and Mexican Gothic (one of the best plot-twists I’ve read in a long time), this book’s atmosphere is relentlessly gloomy, full of the violent political underworld of one protagonist and dreams of Aztec sacrifice and dramatic romance in the jungle from the other.

Neither young protagonist of Velvet Was the Night have much of a future. There is El Elvis, an early-twenties (ish?) local tough taken in by a charismatic leader of the Hawks, a covert suppression group in late-1960s-early 1970s Mexico, and Maite, a deeply lonely secretary with money problems and an obsession with romantic comic books.

Velvet Was the Night Small Cover
Cover of Velvet Was the Night, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Maite also loves pilfering items from her unsuspecting neighbors, specifically because she’ll have a piece of their (better, in her imagination) lives. For Maite, part of the thrill of having a stolen object—everything from a single earring to a statue of a saint—is knowing her neighbor will never miss it.

Attention-starved and cash-strapped, she is easily pulled into her beautiful neighbor Leonora’s life when asked to watch her cat last minute. When Leonora doesn’t return and things get fishy, Maite gets sucked deeper into the mystery of her neighbor and a missing camera. Elvis, meanwhile, searches for both from the other side. Elvis and Maite are on a collision course, the depiction of which will feel pleasantly familiar for fans of Gods of Jade and Shadow.

Despite the violence of Elvis and the casual but elaborate lies of Maite, neither character is unsympathetic (though Maite crosses the line into pathetic for much of the book). Neither Elvis or Maite have families you could call supportive, or even nice, so it keeps them from being unlikable, if not particularly likeable, either. Maite is full of negative self-talk wants reality to be lovely and syrupy, and Elvis longs to earn the sophistication of his cultured leader, El Mago. The two characters earn the reader’s sympathy through their missteps.

Though I found the search for Maite’s rebellious, privileged neighbor wasn’t quite enough to sustain the whole book, as usual, Moreno-Garcia’s writing is wonderful and her characters are unforgettable. Read it on a rainy day, when you don’t mind sinking in to a bit of gloom; skip it if you need your mood to be brighter. But if you choose to go along for this book’s occasionally drawn out ride, the strangely moving, reservedly hopeful ending will leave you glad you did.

To learn more about this author, visit Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s website.

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow (Moreno-Garcia)

Gods of Jade and Shadow Review

Go on. Get your heart broken by this book. I dare you.

After finding the Mayan God of Death locked in her grandfather’s room, Casiopeia Tun embarks on a modern-ish (a hundred years ago) Odyssey-style quest to return Hun-Kame to power and thwart his usurping twin. Sounds like a romance, right?

Just wait.

Casiopea is not a willing participant in her adventure—although it’s fair to say she’s a dazed one. Trapped in a life of servitude to her harsh uncle and tyrannical (somewhat one-dimensional) cousin, she has dreams of driving a car, swimming in the sea and dancing like in the movies. Nowhere do her dreams include having the life slowly sucked out of her by Hun-Kame. And that’s exactly what will happen until she can help the deposed god reclaim the rest of his body.

Then again, life at home as a servant wasn’t that great, either. Family issues aside, her home region is also extremely religious. Now that she’s been seen leaving it with a man, her reputation is ruined. For Casiopeia, there can be no going home.

Fantasy without borders
Readers eager to read fantasy in non-european settings will be thrilled to delve into this Mexican mythology-based Adventure

With the promise of repayment and the whole thing just being over, Casiopeia bears it stoically even as Hun-Kame asks more and more of her (and her reputation is continually ruined). She flirts, she gets a flapper bob, she slides in amongst revelers in cities she only dreamed of seeing. It’s a wild ride, and she comes fairly close to taking it in stride even as a whole slew of mythological figures and creatures cross her path. Sometimes, though, it’s just too much. As strong as Casiopeia is, she has a vulnerable side and occasionally has to cry—as most of us would after meeting hungry ghosts.

Casiopeia is a dreamer, and though she always wanted more from life, what she really wants isn’t so unreasonable. All she’s ever hope for is to have control of her own fate. Though she’s finally away from home, her unwitting bargain with Hun-Kame means she has to face just how little control she has.

To put another wrench in the works, as Casiopeia begins to come into her own as a young woman, Hun-Kame becomes increasingly human. A theme of the hopefulness of the young—and a youthful romance—begins to take shape.

There isn’t much dawdling in the book, but I did feel as though I’d been on a long journey by the time it was through. For all its somewhat glib adventures, it’s an emotional story, and readers run the gamut alongside its young protagonist. The crisp prose and historical tidbits about each location on Casiopeia’s odyssey also added flavor. I very much enjoyed the writing, and often read the lightly snarky chapter openings aloud to family members, who were mostly willing. But as the story goes on, it becomes more character-driven, particularly as the end of the quest creeps into sight.

Of all the characters in the story, though, it’s Casiopeia and Loray, a demon she encounters, who feel the most real, which is perhaps why they find their way back to each other: they’re the only two who have the depth of character to continue on after so much change and loss. Casiopeia starts out young and hopeful; Loray, a little too wise about the ways of the world and literally trapped. For all Casiopeia stands to gain from her quest, she loses a lot, too—including her hope. It leaves the reader with the same sort of stunned emptiness Casiopeia feels at the end.

After going through so much with her, I wish there had been more to the ending than watching Casiopeia drive out of sight—even if she does seem to be in good company. For all he knows about human kind and the underworld, Loray is still full of a zest for life (and exploration), even if it’s all about simple pleasures. He also proves to be particularly kind.

Want more Mayan Mythology?

The Popol Vuh is filled with foundation myths and can be read for free on google.

The climax of the Gods of Jade and Shadow is heartbreaking, beautiful, and in all, makes it a gorgeous novel with a slightly abrupt ending that will still leave you thinking about it long after—and hurting for its characters. I did wish for a lot more out of the wrap-up section of the book, but was left with a lasting emotional impact from it, a sort of raw open ending that its main character is left with.

Then again, maybe that’s just a sign of good writing and a loveable character. It’s true that, just like Hun-Kame, I would’ve like to stay with Casiopeia a little longer.

To learn more about other titles by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, visit her blog.

Thanksgiving already?!

Happy Thanksgiving to all the American readers out there. I can hardly believe it’s that time…partly because I was convinced the holiday after Halloween was Christmas for a minute there.

It’s been a year. My thoughts will be with those of you who will be missing somebody, or just celebrating alone.

We’ll be having a quiet holiday, enjoying the dog show and trying to get our dog interested in the roast turkey squeaky toy we gave her last year. This is my second Thanksgiving with the delightful pupper, my first dog in almost 20 years! (Which, if you’re wondering, is waaaayyy too long!)

On to the news!

Comics – You’ll find a brand new edition of Social Isolation right here. I’d love to put more content out in this category, but with everybody home the family tablet is in VERY high demand!

Blog – For all my fellow writers out there, my 3-part series, Use Contrast to Create Depth in Your Story, concluded last week. I hope to have more posts like it soon, but right now I have a few reviews to catch up on!


What I’m reading – An advanced reader copy (in exchange for an honest review…you know the deal!) of Helena Rookwood’s fabulous The Thief and the Throne. A while back, I reviewed the first book in the Carnival of Fae series, The Prince and the Poisoner, and I fully expect I’ll have the same level of gushing admiration for this one. Loving it so far.

I’ve read so many books in this pandemic…way more than I ever thought I would. And that’s nearly all thanks to ebook loans from my county library. I made this little graphic to celebrate that and all the things that make such an odd and frequently awful time better. I find that on a sad day, a little WeRateDogs can still make me smile.

What I read last – Mexican Gothicby Silvia Moreno-Garcia. If you haven’t read this one yet, do NOT let anyone spoil the plot twist for you!

Till next time!