Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire on September 6, 2016
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…
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!