Title: Labyrinth Lost
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: YA Fantasy, Paranormal, Witches
Boy, do I hope that Labyrinth Lost is the first of a series, because I loved this book! I was immediately pulled in to this novel when I first read the description and realized it contained many of my favorite elements: Brujas and brujos (witchcraft); a coming-of-age Deathday celebration that takes its inspiration from Dios de los Muertes and Santeria; and a journey into an Underworld-type land called Los Lagos. And a glossary. I absolutely love when novels include glossaries!!
The main character, Alex, is a teenage bruja that lives in Brooklyn with her mother and two sisters. She does not want the magic that runs in her blood, that ties her to her family and ancestors. We meet Alex shortly before her Deathday celebration. Along the lines of a bat mitzvah, but fictional, a teen’s Deathday is a special family celebration where the ancestors give their blessing to the brujo/a, which allows their magic to grow and reach its full potential.
Alex, however, fears her power, and in a hasty decision, uses a canto to try to revoke her magic and give it back to the Deos (Gods). That plan backfires, terribly, and Alex embarks on a journey into Los Lagos to try and correct the terrible mistake that she made. She is accompanied by Nova, a young mysterious brujo, and her best friend, Rishi.
“We all get scared and want to turn away, but it isn’t always strength that makes you stay. Strength is also making the decision to change your destiny.”
Overall, the story works really well. One of my favorite things about the story was the world of Los Lagos, an ethereal world in another dimension. Córdova did an excellent job with both the plot and the world-building, and I really hope that Los Lagos makes another appearance in a future book! Alex and her companion, the brujo Nova, jump through a portal early on in the novel in an effort to save Alex’s family. The reader is literally dropped into a world filled with duendes, fairies from the Kingom of Adas, and the evil Devourer, a bruja gone bad, who has been sucking up power from the land through the Tree of Souls.
I also love the cast of characters, who are mostly Latinx. Most of the characters – with the exception of Rishi, who is Indian – are Latinx, and the magical creatures that fill the pages of Labyrinth Lost are influenced by Latin American culture and mythology. For the most part, all of the characters are well-developed, with two exceptions: Alex’s mother, and Rishi. I was surprised when I finished the novel and realized I knew almost as little about Rishi as I did at the beginning. Which to me is an oversight, since she is one of the love interests in the story. My favorite character was definitely Alex’s deceased Aunt Rosaria, and I knew she was going to play a larger role than one would imagine from a deceased relative from the opening sentence:
“The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.”
Another aspect about Labyrinth Lost that I really appreciated: respectful bisexual representation. I have to admit I began to worry when the love triangle first began to make an appearance, with the fear that we were headed down a rabbit hole, and Rishi would be turned into another token LGBT character that gets left in the dust for the “true” love interest. That was absolutely not the case! The romance was also very understated, which I appreciate. I am not a big fan of the romance genre, and fantasy books that tread to far into that department aren’t usually my cup of tea.
With all of these wonderful elements, why did I not give it 5 stars? It comes quite close, but one problematic aspect brings it down a notch in my book. It always bothers me when an author misuses mental illness terms in an ableist manner, and I caught at least two examples of ableism in Labyrinth Lost. The first is the frequent use of “crazy”, as in “Crazy Uncle Julio”. The second, is this:
“I’ve never seen a boy with such bipolar eyes, let alone a permanent wrinkle between his brows, like he spends more time frowning than anything else.”
What, exactly, are bipolar eyes? In my opinion, this is definitely not an acceptable description, and it is used multiple times do describe Nova’s eyes. Frankly, I was surprised that a book that as diverse as this one would use such harmful word choice.
Overall, I definitely recommend Labyrinth Lost to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, especially stories rich in witchcraft and mythology. The ending seemed to leave an opening for a sequel, which I would read in a hearbeat!