Brujas Unite!: YA Fantasy with a Latinx Heart & Soul
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire - September 2016
Part Alice in Wonderland, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and a dash of Charmed, Labyrinth Lost was a fast read that reaffirmed why we need diverse young adult fantasy.
I was chosen by the Deos. Even gods make mistakes.
In my effort to not buy too many books this year - which I'm marginally succeeding at - I've been going to my local library a lot more. During one of my recent trips I picked up Zoraida Córdova's Labyrinth Lost. It's been on my to-be-read list since it came out in 2016, but I never got around to it until now.
I am so happy I finally read it because I absolutely LOVED it!
Here's a quick synopsis:
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's not sure she can trust, but who may be Alex's only chance at saving her family.
I feel like this back-of-the-book snippet does not do this book justice!
Alejandra Mortiz is sixteen-years-old, born and raised in Brooklyn among a close knit Latino family. More specifically, Alejandra (or "Alex") is from a long line of powerful brujas (witches). While her mother and sisters see their magical gifts as blessings from los deos (the gods) and their ancestors. Alex only sees her inherited magic as a curse. Her Deathday – when she comes into full power with the blessing of her family and all the dead brujas who came before her – is approaching; but can she get rid of her powers and choose to live a magic-free life? Alex attempts to decide her own fate by performing a powerful canto (spell) to reject her ancestors' blessing and get rid of her powers. As with most magic, there are always consequences. After she performs this spell her family disappears, her only hope of finding them and bringing them home is to accept help from a questionable, though dreadfully handsome, brujo called Nova. They must travel to Los Lagos - an in between world filled with mysterious creatures, dead relatives, and evil brujas.
One of my favorite elements of this novel was the world building. Drawing on Ecuadorian, Spanish, African, Mexican, and Caribbean backgrounds, Córdova blends folk traditions, syncretic religions like Santeria and other combinations of Catholicism and native religious ideas and practices, with urban Latinx speaking patterns. Everything melded together beautifully to create a rich magical world that feels uniquely Latin American. In many ways it reminded me of J.K. Rowling's use of European magical and folk traditions that influenced the type of magic and creatures that were featured in Harry Potter.
On top of the fantastic world building, I loved the themes of familial love, embracing your power, and navigating the "in between".
Often fantasy stories feature heroes or heroines from broken families or characters that have grown up without a family. Instead, Alex has a loving, if sometimes irritating, family as well as her extended family and the bruja community. Her father is missing in this book and Alex is convinced he left because of a sinister event while her sisters and mother believe he's merely missing. Despite her father's absence, her family is her world. And after their disappearance Alex fights to find them and save them.
Additionally, much like the Akata Witch series that I've reviewed previously, I appreciated the character development in this book. We see Alex at the start of the novel as a shy awkward girl, uncomfortable with her differences and her power. However, by the end of the novel, Alex has learned to embrace who she is and that she is powerful and radiant. *I'm not crying, you're crying!* To me some modern YA fantasy books shy away from demonstrating true character growth, which is why I'm very pleased with the main character in particular.
Lastly, throughout the book Alex is in the middle of a crossroads or intersections of different identities, decisions, and desires. I applaud any author that can demonstrate the dichotomies that many people from diverse backgrounds face. Along with being between the non-magical world and world of brujas, Los Lagos itself is a world in between, and she's in between childhood and adulthood. And something I think is important to include here is the fact that, yes there is a love triangle, however, this love triangle is between Alex and a female and a male love interest. This was not explicitly stated anywhere on the synopsis but I think it's an important point. It might be a little spoiler-y but I loved how natural both love interests were. The scenes were normal and not exaggerated. I've read a number of articles that discuss how bisexual relationships are often misconstrued and that bisexual women are often depicted as homewreckers and are supposedly prone to infidelity. All terrible stereotypes. Thus I was really happy to see a bisexual character where their sexuality wasn't the main focus of the story and also was not throw in for drama.
My only critique of this book is that I did get a bit tired about hearing how sexy Nova, the brujo, is and how apparently he always seemed to have his shirt off. Don't get me wrong, I love a crush-worthy love interest, it just seemed like the references to his physical attractiveness was too much. Moreover, at just over 300 pages, the plot seemed a bit rushed. The book is jam-packed with world building and character relationships; I wish it could have been slowed down just a bit to allow even more development. Lastly, I saw the plot twist about allegiances a mile off. But that didn't irk me too much because the characters and world were imaginative and endearing.
The next book in the series Bruja Born (Brooklyn Brujas Book 2) will be out on June 5th! The second book will focus on Alex's older sister, Lula Mortiz! I was kindly provided a review copy of book 2, so be on the look out for my review on the next book!