Hi Virtually Readers! Hopefully you have not been tracking my online activity and obscure references to my whereabouts with any kind of fervor, in which case you will not know that I just returned (like a week ago) from Indonesia. I had a marvellous time, pretended I didn’t have university responsibilities and read quite a bit. Now I am back and my life is consumed by chaos and I have so much to do and mostly I am happy about it (really relating to shar’s blogging struggles tbh). Anyway, one of the books I read was also about chaos: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova. This is going to be a short review because I gotta sleep but enjoy anyway.
Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.
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 marks 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… [blurb from goodreads]
So Labyrinth Lost is an urban fantasy, technically, but it’s more like a middle fantasy because a lot of it is in another world. It draws heavily on Latin American (specifically Ecuadorian, I believe?) traditions, which is so fascinating. I’ve heard lots about that part of the world growing up because my parents have spent lots of time there but I haven’t had much personal experience. But instead of making you feel alienated with lots of uses of Spanish terms and Latin cultural elements, Zoraida Cordova makes you feel welcomed in, one of the family. The worldbuilding is never over the top. Perhaps in some spots it could even have been explained a bit more, but the complex tangles of the magic system and magical world were mostly just immersive.
The story uses a fairly typical quest format. Alex, the main character wants something, and has challenged that she has to go through to get it. I liked how even though the shape of her quest was traditional, the way that Alex’s goal kept evolving (no magic! Family! Wait actually magic! Wait actually the whole entire world!) kept things fluid and intriguing. The surreal intensity of Los Lagos is bright and curious. Alejandra is as disoriented as us, which lends the narrative a particularly effective sense of distortion and not rightness.
This links of course to how Alejandra feels out of kilter in her life. Her bruja family means she has no belonging at school and her desire to be normal means that she wants to reject her family and her skills. I adored the depiction of her family. They were really loving and things were screwed up and they just wanted best for her, and they were learning, together, what that could look like. I loved her sisters, and I’m excited to read Bruja Born, which is about Alex’s older sister. I love sister trilogies (okay I have lowkey written the first book in one of these myself).
I think everyone can relate to this sense of impure belonging, of needing to somehow marry the worlds they interact with. I know I did. It is complicated to come from two places and so many of us do. Even just having n intellectualy world that is very separate from your everyday reality (which I definitely did in Indonesia while reading this book) can have the same effect. I thought that this was written beautifully.
There’s a twist in this book, and it’s kind of predictable. I’m not going to condemn it for a bit. At this point there are only so many narratives left in the world. Zoraida Cordova manages this kind of twist very elegantly. I felt very betrayed, and that was fully her intended effect. I loved how she managed the emotional intensity of the plot and rode it to a very satisfying conclusion while leaving enough frayed threads to lead believably to a sequel.
There was also a major Indian character in this book. I really loved that. I didn’t relate to her culture very much, but it was familiar to me in a way that the Ecuadorian elements weren’t (which was fine, obvs). I loved Rishi immensely. And all the weird and wonderful creatures of Los Lagos were marvelous.