Book: “Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Córdova
Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, September 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.
I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.
Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.
The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…
“Beautiful Creatures” meets “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.
Review: So I am kind of switching it up for my second Horrorpalooza review! While I know that Serena is usually the user to do fantasy novels, when I got “Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Córdova, I thought that it was going to be more horror based. I mean, the main character is a bruja, which is a kind of witch for this story and it’s purposes, and I did say that witches are going to count in this Horrorpalooza. So while this is less horror and more a remix of “Alice in Wonderland”, I am going to count it as a win because this is the kind of Witch-esque Mythology that I really enjoy: powerful, matriarchal bonds that sustain a family with just as much love as magic. Also, scary demons. Plus, it’s always a plus to see YA books with a POC protagonist, as books for kids and teens (and really all people) should be telling the stories of many different experiences.
So we will start with the good. “Labyrinth’s Lost” takes a concept we’ve seen before (teenage witches) and makes it it’s own unique tale. Alex is a bruja, the most powerful bruja of her generation, and the magical systems that Córdova created for this story are always interesting and taking from Latin American traditions. There are some pretty good source notes at the end of this book where Córdova explains what parts come from tradition, and what parts were invented for the story, and I think that it is valuable to learn about this background. Too often to do you see people using Latin American imagery of spirits and the dead, especially around Halloween, and this book shows the importance of some of this imagery and why it isn’t just spooky makeup. I also loved the magical world of Los Lagos, as it does harken to Wonderland but still maintains its own character and ambiance. The magical system of cantos as opposed to spells also gives a new spin on traditionally Western ideas of witchcraft, and I liked that every chapter started out with a passage from the family Book of Cantos. These Bruja communities are portrayed as incredibly tight knit, and the camaraderie and love was very apparent. I also like that the distinction is made that all brujas are witches, but not all witches are brujas. They are not necessarily interchangeable and one cannot make assumptions about brujas just because they are a kind of witch.
Alex is a fairly realistic protagonist, and while she does teeter towards the trope of ‘chosen one who rejects her power’, I think that there is enough reason given that she may not want to have this power in the first place so as not to be twee or stereotypical. To be an Ecantrix means to have a dangerous power that is hard to control, and given that Alex partially blames herself for the loss of her father, her petulance is excusable. I also greatly appreciated that not only is our main character a Latina girl, she is also bisexual, and her love interest is her best friend Rishi. Rishi gets to come along on this adventure with Alex and the mysterious brujo Nova, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how natural Alex and Rishi got on. Her bisexuality was always treated as just a fact of her being, not as a novelty that needed to be pointed out and doted on.
But with these positives do come a few negatives. One of those is really just out of my own personal preferences: I have a really hard time with fantasy fiction. Sometimes it really grabs me, and other times it’s harder to keep me interested. While I liked a lot about “Labyrinth Lost”, I did find the stuff inside Los Lagos to be far less interesting to me than her life in the real world. I think that had the magic stayed in an urban or real world setting it would have held my interest. but once new lands come into play, I’m really not all that invested unless that world is called Middle Earth or Fantastica. So when we got to Los Lagos, I found it easier to put down. I did like the villain, The Devourer, as she was menacing and seductive all at once, a being that has started to take over Los Lagos and in doing so has made it start to crumble under her oppressive force. She was good, but I wanted more of her.
And then….. the dreaded love triangle.
“Labyrinth Lost” is book one in a series (what is it with YA Fantasy books seemingly always packaged as a series?), and even though Alex is very much devoted to Rishi, by the end of this book you just get the feeling that Nova is going to be a threat to this relationship in the near future. After all, even though he does things in this book that should be pretty hard to forgive, he’s being set up as the tragic antihero that is hopelessly devoted to Alex. I really don’t like love triangles, and I had hoped that we were getting away from that, but apparently not. Plus, this book ends on a blatant cliffhanger, making it totally unable to stand alone, and I hate it when books end like that. It just galls me.
All of those complaints aside, I really do think that “Labyrinth Lost” is a really fun read about magic and brujas. I will probably keep going in the series, though I don’t know how long the wait is going to be. I’m not really in any hurry, which is both good, and bad.
Rating 7: A very unique twist on witches and Wonderland with diverse characters, though some of the plot progression left me colder than I would have wanted.
Find “Labyrinth Lost” at your library using WorldCat!