Sometimes, as a teenager, you wish your family would just disappear. But what happens when you have the magic to actually make that happen? Sixteen-year-old Alejandra Mortiz finds out in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, Book #1 of the Brooklyn Brujas series. Alex dreads the Deathday ceremony that will awaken her powers, but when she tries to banish her magic, she banishes her family instead. Drawing from Latin American myth and culture and blending them with common tropes of the genre, Córdova creates a unique fantasy world for Alex to explore as she explores her own heritage. And despite what the back cover would have you believe, this isn’t your typical boy-girl romance. This is a book primarily about women and the relationships between them, be they familial, antagonistic, or romantic.
The author was born and raised in Ecuador and lives in metropolitan New York City. This mixing of cultures is reflected in her work, which also takes place in Brooklyn. For example, Alex’s ceremonial makeup on her Deathday as depicted in the cover art is meant to resemble the sugar skulls of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. The land of the dead features elements from Greek and Celtic myth but recast with Spanish names and tweaks. Magic-users are called brujas and brujos rather than witches and they use cantos instead of spells. Family and community are of utmost importance, just as in many Latin American traditions.
Alex never felt like she belonged in her family’s world. While her sisters and mother revel in their powers, she fears hers and for good reason. She fears the dead, too, but ancestors who have passed on are instrumental to awakening a bruja’s magic. Nevertheless, when Alex accidentally banishes her family along with all their ancestors to Los Lagos, the land of the dead, there’s no doubt in her mind about braving the unknown to retrieve them. She’ll have to enlist the help of a mysterious, tattooed brujo named Nova, who just appeared conveniently in town like a stereotypical YA love interest. But his is not the only help she will find. With friends behind her, magic within her, and family as her guide, Alex is determined to save her relatives—and the whole underworld while she is at it—from the formidable female force known as the Devourer.
The setting for the first part of the novel—Alex’s home—reminds me of the chaotic all-female households that seem a staple of witchy fiction. From the Spellman home in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, to Blue Sargent’s in The Raven Cycle, to Diana Bishop’s in the All Souls Trilogy, there is just something magical about how mothers, daughters, cousins, aunts, and sisters can love and hate each other at the same time, always get in each other’s way, yet work together to accomplish great things, and support each other in times of trouble.
*Minor spoilers in this paragraph*
Alex’s relationship with a certain other female character is one of the most genuine elements in the story. From their first interactions, I could tell there was something between them. Unlike the cliché brooding looks and bickering that Alex exchanges with Nova, these interactions felt true to real life and obvious even without the author explicitly stating any romantic overtones. As the story seemed to veer away from that direction, I began to fear that I had been queer-baited (i.e. when an author hints at a queer romantic relationship without actually depicting it). Fortunately, my fears were proven wrong, though by the end of the book the relationship leaves all subtlety behind to bask in dramatic declarations of love, acts of sacrifice, and the over-the-top language typical of the YA genre.
The writing style is a little unpolished. Parts of the story move way too slow, such as the exposition before Alex’s fateful Deathday, while other parts, like the development of her friendships and the climax at the end of the story, seem rushed. Nevertheless, the story is refreshing in its originality and the author shows promise. I’ll have to keep my eye on Zoraida Córdova and maybe check out her other works. In conclusion, if you are interested in Latinx representation, LGBT love stories, or just new takes on the witch-coming-of-age story, I recommend you check out Labyrinth Lost.
Does this sound up your alley? Have you read the book? Let me know what you think in the comments!