Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Topics: Coming of age, brujeria
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publishing Year: 2016
Format Read: Hard Cover
My Rating:3.75 /5
Summary: 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 she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.
Review: Labyrinth Lost is one of the most traditional yet refreshing books I have read in a while. Let me explain. Labyrinth Lost is essentially a hero’s journey with a redemption arc. After rejecting her magic and position as ‘The Chosen One™’ Alex casts a spell (or canto) that goes awry and sends her family into a dark and decaying limbo world Los Lagos. Alex must then venture into this underworld to find her family and redeem herself by defeating ‘The Dark One™’ who is a fallen-from-grace villain who tried to challenge the gods (or deos) and was punished and now is terrorizing everyone. This plot is as old as Hercules and Dante (whose Inferno is heavily referenced) but Córdova put a fun and interesting spin on this trope by combining a surprisingly dark Guillermo-del-Toro meets-Urban-Fantasy feel and an Alice-in-Wonderland dreamlike quality that somehow works together and makes this story compulsively readable.
The most unique and compelling part of this book (and also the source of my one tiny frustration) was the amazing world building that Córdova has given us. Córdova has drawn from Caribbean and Mexican culture to create a mythological background to a uniquely Latino magic system that doesn’t feel kitschy or like a cute variation on ‘Standard White Magic’ (here’s looking at you J.K. Rowling) it feels established, alive and I love it. We have Bruja Quinceañeras or Death Day, bruja bodegas for all of your magic needs, and traditions that incorporate really well into a contemporary Brooklyn setting. Córdova has built something that will feel familiar yet new and exciting especially to Latino audiences.
My tiny gripe that pushed my rating down a little bit is that I feel like there is a bit of a logical disconnect at times between the rules of the magical world Córdova has created and Alex’s ability to perform magic. For example, we have been told that Alex has been suppressing her magic her whole life and has never practiced magic. We know that spells or cantos are written and kept in the book of Cantos and which contains all of her family’s knowledge of magic and which Alex leaves behind in Brooklyn (!) instead of taking it with her to los Lagos. We know that magic usually has consequences on the practitioner's body (bruises, black marks etc.) and often requires ingredients to perform yet Alex manages, without practicing, reading the book or gathering ingredient, to produce complex and powerful magic at all the right times. I mean she is ‘The Chosen One™’ but it seemed like a couple of times, magic was used as a convenient way to quickly resolve conflict and felt a little too easy.
Stripping away the awesome magical elements, the core of the story stands strong as well. The story explores family ties, legacies and love. In particular, this books shines when exploring, the power (literally, sometimes in this case) one feels from strong family ties and the consequences of lacking family ties. For example we get to see Alex’s relationship with her sisters and mother which are based on mutual love and support and are a joy to read and essentially drive Alex’s quest. We also get to see her relationship with some of her peripheral family and her struggle to fit into their expectations and come to term with her legacy. The idea of family is broadened in Los Lagos when we see familial bonds in the various magical factions that populate the world and the lengths that they will go to protect their own. Overall this book was such a joy to read and I am eagerly awaiting book two!