Author: Zoraida Córdova
Depending on your culture, a prominent coming of age event might be a Sweet 16, quinceañera, or bat mitzvah. For Alejandra (Alex) Mortiz, it means summoning her dead relatives to deliver a family blessing that will help control her magic, should it ever decide to develop. After all, nothing says “I’m a normal teenage girl” like, “Want to come to my Deathday celebration?” Alex is a bruja – a Latinx witch – but she’d really rather not be.
Working off the vague hints of a mysterious brujo boy named Nova, Alex decides to take things into her own hands when her magic indisputably reveals itself. At her Deathday, she tries to banish her power, but when the chaos settles her power is still very much intact…and her entire family is gone. To get them back, Alex and Nova have to create a portal and navigate the dangerous terrain of Los Lagos, a magical alternate dimension that also serves as a prison for beings banished from the mortal world.
Labyrinth Lost was a runaway success for me. With six days left on my ebook checkout, I hadn’t even started it, and was wondering if I’d have time to start AND finish. First page – totally hooked – three hours on a recliner – well on my way to finishing in the span of a weekend. It’s a triumphant celebration of the author’s own heritage, and unabashedly distances itself from the idea of standard witch covens that occupy a lot of fantasy literature.
Spells are for witches. Brujas do cantos…All brujas are witches but not all witches are brujas.
One of the things I most appreciated about this book is how the theme of family as identity takes the forefront. Too often, magical heroines are orphans with no knowledge of their inherited power. While Alex’s father is no longer in the picture – a painfully shrouded piece of history that promises to be pivotal in subsequent books – the rest of her family is there, loud and proud to the point of nearly smothering Alex’s sense of self. She has to come to terms with the power that runs in her blood and find space to be an individual amidst her broader ancestry. Having heard stories from my Hispanic friends about their families, the image of Alex’s family was all too easy to picture – love, sometimes tough, sometimes overbearing, but full of an unbreakable love that will fight for family.
Alex’s personal growth outside of her family identity takes a little bit of a back seat, but I think it worked well for Labyrinth Lost. We get a few hints of potential romance, but nothing that steals focus from Alex’s ultimate goal of saving her family. After all, teenage romance won’t mean diddly-squat if she can’t save her mother, sisters, and literally every member of her extended family. I imagine that personal identity will be a central theme in the next Brooklyn Bruja book, as the last part of Labyrinth Lost has Alex just beginning to work through what it means to love, as well as dipping her toe into questions about her own sexuality as a friendship starts to evolve into something more.
In addition to a plot that you can blast through, Labyrinth Lost features some wonderfully fantastical settings. Los Lagos is a cornucopia of treacherous landscapes, from the Selva of Ashes and deceptively peaceful Meadow del Sol, to the ominous Caves of Night and Bone Valle. Author Zoraida Córdova describes everything with lush detail that raises the fantasy world to the same level of fullness as Alex’s modern-day Brooklyn.
Labyrinth Lost is a fast-paced, humorous and touching look at the struggle to find strength and individual purpose within an overarching family unit. There are some Spanish terms sprinkled throughout, as exemplified in the setting names above, but nothing that will be a stumbling block to non-speakers. If you decide to translate them, I feel that just gives you an even clearer picture of the author’s own cultural perspective. In addition, there are several pages at the back that detail the real-world cultural elements that Córdova drew on for this story. Topics like Day of the Dead, the modern use of the word bruja, and more will give you insight not only to this book but perhaps be an entry point to learning about the heritage of a friend, neighbor or coworker. Move over, Salem, because the Brooklyn Brujas will not be ignored.