Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova (Brooklyn Brujas #1)

Genre: YA Fantasy

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire on September 6, 2016

Source: Publisher

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My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

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…

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Everyone interested in reading more diversely should sit up and take note of LABYRINTH LOST, the first book in a new YA fantasy series inspired by Latin American culture, traditions, and folklore. This book is not only a well-written, compelling read, it’s also a much-needed addition to the canon of non-Western fantasy.

Alejandra, AKA Alex, lives in Brooklyn with her mom and her two sisters, all of them accomplished brujas. If you’re not familiar with the term, a bruja is a Spanish word for witch or a wise woman; in LABYRINTH LOST, Alex’s family perform cantos to help deliver babies, heal wounds, and initiate the next generation of brujas into their Circle. But using magic has consequences, a harsh reality that Alex knows better than most. Her natural gifts are frightening and difficult to control, and her inability to wield them properly has led to people getting hurt.

When Alex tries to get rid of her powers, she uses a dark canto that – of course – goes horribly awry. To save her family and herself, Alex will have to venture into Los Lagos, a dimension created by the Deos and ruled by mythical creatures and spirits. Los Lagos is an atmospheric, creative setting that has a vague “Alice in Wonderland” feel to it with its topsy-turvy internal logic and unusual residents. Alex and Nova (a mysterious brujo who’s acting as her guide for less than noble reasons) encounter all manner of creatures as they journey across Los Lagos, including bird women called Avianas and terrifying monsters called Saberskins, which are a cross between saber tooth tigers and giant snakes. To reach the Tree of Souls at the center of the labyrinth on Los Lagos, Alex will have to finally trust in her history, her power, and herself.

Family is a central theme in LABYRINTH LOST, as Alex’s sisters, her mom, and her extended family are a huge part of her life. She looks up to her older sister Lula, whose brash personality and beauty often obscure her gentler side, and she’s very protective of her little sister Rose, a hyper-intelligent and very serious girl whose ability to see the future puts a heavy weight on her shoulders. While Lula and Rose don’t get that much page time, they’re still fully realized characters who felt just as fleshed out as Alex. Well done, Zoraida Cordova! Typical YA novels that focus on coming into your own or accepting your identity often fall into the “absent parents” or “absent family” trope, so I really appreciated the fact that Alex’s mom is a positive influence who supports Alex no matter what.

Alex’s relationships are the true focus of this novel, so it’s not a surprise that her romantic prospects come into play here too. It’s a poorly kept secret that Alex’s family is a bit different, so she’s not exactly the most popular girl in school, which is why Alex’s best friend Rishi is so important to her. But Alex’s feelings for Rishi clearly go beyond the platonic, but her life goes completely off the rails just when she starts to think her feelings may be reciprocated. Add to that the fact that handsome and dangerous Nova clearly has eyes for Nova and you’ve got yourself a very well done bisexual love triangle. That’s right y’all: a bisexual love triangle that is unproblematic and actually makes sense. It’s a miracle! I am very pleased with how things turn out for Alex romantically, but there’s definitely room for things to change in the sequel.

LABYRINTH LOST is a well-written, Latin American-inspired, feminist, queer positive book. What are you waiting for? Grab yourself a copy and let’s discuss!

Do you plan to read LABYRINTH LOST? What non-Western fantasy series would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

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  • I’m so glad to finally read a review of this book. It’s been on my TBR for a while, but I didn’t request it because I just had too many September books to read. Now I realize I’ll need to go back and read it because you rated it so highly!

    • September is such an overwhelming month in terms of book releases – I don’t know how bloggers do it, let alone publishing houses! I absolutely adored this one, and I really hope you enjoy it. Definitely a fresh perspective for YA fantasy.

  • Lynn Williams

    I’ve seen such a lot of hype for this that it sort of put me off requesting – and now I see a 5* review here and desperately want to read! Doh!!
    Lynn 😀

    • Hahaha oh no! The double-edged sword of book hype. I really loved this one – I did have a few quibbles, but those were so paltry in comparison to how much I loved Cordova’s voice. I’m really excited to see where she takes the series!

  • O_o creepy cover

    • Isn’t it though? I was definitely drawn in by the cover art…and it’s 100% accurate to the story, too!

  • Well! This looks interesting. I haven’t read a book about brujas yet, so I’m definitely interested. I love reading reviews like this, when the reviewer has so obviously enjoyed the book! (Also, if there are weird typos in my comment, my brain is currently mush and wording is HARD.)

    I like family-centered books, good family dynamics are so hard to get right! I’ll probably wait for a sequel to be published in this one, just so I know that the quality holds up, and I have SO MANY series to finish already. 🙂

    • Funnily enough, I actually tried to tone down my gushing in this review! I seriously loved this one. Alex is a protagonist that is frustrating yet lovable, and while she makes some dumb decisions she works hard to make up for them. And I love that she can always ask the women in her life (sisters, mom, aunties) for help!

      HOW are you still blogging after the birth of Baby? You amaze me! #wonderwoman

      • A family of helpful women sounds really good – family relations are usually really bad in such books. I understand why (the conflict) but it’s nice to hear about a good support system.

        And blogging is actually the perfect hobby for this time because it can be done in small chunks and isn’t time-sensitive and I don’t have to go anywhere – it’s easy to squeeze commenting and post writing in between other activities. 🙂 Just don’t ask me how my work is going. 😀

  • Siobhan

    I love to see more diverse books coming out! I love to read stories from other cultures, so I think I’ll definitely like this book. And having a strong family theme is such a great feature of this book. I hope to read this one soon!

    You should have seen how Sabaa Tahir shut down a hater who loathed her work. Oh my God, I love that woman.

    • Me too! Most of the big name YA fantasy series are painfully white and hetero, so I was ecstatic when I heard about this book. It definitely lived up to my expectations.

      OMG was that her tumblr post? I did see that, it was awesome. Get thee to the burn unit, anon troll!

      • Siobhan

        Or the secondary characters or sidekicks are bi or gay, but they aren’t written well. If you want to write about the gay community, immerse yourself in it so you can understand it entirely!

        Yesss, it was. ???? I nearly spit up my pop when I read it. I think you’d love her books. And the second one is to die for. I can’t believe I have to wait until 2018 for the third. ????

  • I’ve seen this book about a lot lately and I think its time I finally cave and get it. I’m glad to see you enjoyed it – it certainly sounds new and interesting 🙂 I love the sounds of the mythology behind this – also you don’t get many family themed books so its refreshing already 🙂

    • Yay! I’m so happy to hear that, Sara! Labyrinth Lost is a really special book: beautifully written, realistic characters (in that you love them…and want to shake them sometimes), unique world building, and all of it influenced by non-Western culture. Heck yes! 😀

  • This review has convinced me to just throw my money at this book to get my hands on a copy. It sounds amazing. And I didn’t realise about the bisexual love triangle! I mean, damn! Way to mix up the love triangle trope and make it original. I would read for that kind of twist alone. I love the sound of Los Lagos and the entire magic system that seems to be happening. Just everything. I want to read this book for lots of reasons.

    Fantastic review. You’ve convinced me (you know, in case I wasn’t convinced before) that I need to read this book.

    • YASSS BECKY, DO IT! I actually bought a copy for one of my BFFs for her birthday (hopefully she doesn’t read this…haha) because I loved it so much.

      The bi love triangle was amazing! It was so well done, you could really feel why Alex was drawn to both of her love interests. Los Lagos was fantastically creepy and eerie and cool – I always love “underworld” type universes.

      Hurray! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this one!

      • OK, I may treat myself on payday… maybe. I find it so hard to treat myself if impulse buying isn’t involved. I deserve this, though. I am successfully saving money even when I am buying too many books. And this book is having nothing but good things about it so how can I not?

  • This sounds fantastic on so many different levels. I enjoy that the parents are actually in this one and a positive influence. That seems like a hard thing to find in YA. I’m also all for an Alice in Wonderland vibe.

    • I think Labyrinth Lost showcases all the best elements of YA, and adds a little (a lot!) extra in the mix too. HA, you’re so right about absent/awful parents in YA! I was really pleased to see that convention turned on its head in this book.

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I don’t think I’ve seen many (any?) Latin American influences fantasy. Glad this one worked so well!

    • I can think of a couple (Daniel Jose Older’s urban fantasy series and Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia) but I haven’t read either of them! I need to remedy that ASAP.

  • The more I read about this, the more I want to read it. It sounds AMAZING!