ARC Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

12:15:00 PM

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy, YA
Published: September 6, 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire
Rating: ★★★★ 4/5 Stars

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher at the 2016 ALA Annual Conference in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis (from Goodreads): 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...

My whole life, I have learned about my heritage as a Hispanic girl and the cultures that harmonize and overlap and blend into that of my own. Puerto Rican by way of the island itself, as well as the island Manhattan at one point in my family history, I found bits and pieces of myself in our heroine Alex.
For many months I have been (not-so) silently pleading for more Hispanic representation in YA. More representation that isn't stereotypical. More representation that is delivered by a POC author and not someone's idea of representation in an attempt to make their novel more well-rounded. More representation that involves the heritage and culture of the ancestors that came before. More representation where Latina girls aren't sexualized for their natural curves or written off as the more matronly characters. More representation where Latino boys aren't uneducated gang members or living on the wrong side of the tracks. More representation where Latinx people are portrayed as we are and not as the stereotypes that seem to be so tirelessly overused.
Labyrinth Lost was a story that delivered all that and more.
The story follows a girl named Alex and the misadventures of her family of brujas – a long line of magical people spanning for generations. In Spanish, a bruja is a witch. In Alex’s world, all brujas and brujos are witches; but not all witches are brujas. In recent times there has been an upward trend within Hispanic communities for women to lovingly call one another a bruja – a very good friend of mine will call me his little bruja, my abuela and my tia will call each other brujitas when they’re gossiping about some particularly juicy chisme or gossip. Because of this, I loved the connotation of mysticism and power that being a bruja carried. The story is heavily influenced by Mexican and Caribbean Hispanic culture and mythology and reads like folklore with a lyrical voice and incredibly vibrant and lush imagery. I can’t sing enough praises for the story Zoraida told that centers on finding your inner strength and coming into your own power.
We follow the story of Alex, a bruja in a powerful family who has been suppressing her power for years in the desire to be a “normal” girl. Her sixteenth birthday rolls around, however, and Alex finds she can no longer keep a hold on her rare and growing power. In an attempt to rid herself of her magic once and for all, her spell backfires and she inadvertently sends her entire family down a wormhole into a parallel world called Los Lagos. But this land is cursed, overtaken by a dark force known only as the Devourer. Alex must race against the clock to free her family before the Devourer consumes them all and grows even stronger.
Along the way, Alex befriends a mysterious brujo boy who holds more secrets than he has tattoos, and who is her only key to saving her family. A long the way Alex and Nova encounter countless magical creatures and obstacles on their path to the Labyrinth to free Alex’s family. But with the Devourer on their tail at every turn, Alex learns her magic isn’t the burden she always believed it to be.
I think what I loved about this story the most was its imagery. I’ve probably said that multiple times already in this review, but it’s true! The storytelling was so masterful, it read like a folklore story I grew up hearing at bedtime. It was rife with vivid imagery and gorgeous, sweeping language that really was the icing on the cake. If you’ve ever seen the Dreamworks movie The Book of Life, there was a similar vibrancy to this book. Los Lagos was a character in and of itself, a land so unique and colorful, it seems to breathe a life of its own into the story.
What I took issue with was the romance, but only because of how confused Alex seemed. She seemed to have a little bit of insta-love for her best friend Rishi, while also crushing hard on Nova. I didn’t know who I wanted to root for! While I really appreciated the diversity aspect of a bisexual main character (something still shockingly uncommon in the YA scene) it just seemed to miss the mark a teensy bit. Other than this, though, the relationships between the characters were extremely well-developed and realistic. The sense of family and connection in the story was such a driving force, and I appreciated how the romance took a back seat to the main conflict at hand. Later on, the twist and betrayal aspect of the plot took a turn I really was pleasantly surprised by – albeit quite angry at the character at fault. Overall, the characters really made the story pop and gave a unique voice to overarching themes.

If you’re after a diverse read this fall that strays off the path of your typical supernatural YA story, Labyrinth Lost is not to be missed.

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2016 Reading Challenge
Giselle has read 5 books toward her goal of 50 books.