Alex hates being a bruja, but after she accidentally banishes her entire extended family to the underworld, learning to control her powers may be her only hope of getting them back. After hearing this premise, I knew that Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova would be just my kind of book. Back in October, I wrote about seeing Zoraida speak at the Boston Teen Author Festival, where she discussed the recent release of Labyrinth Lost and how her cultural upbringing influenced the novel, particularly in her portrayals of magic and death. After getting my copy signed, I added it to the top of my to-read pile and soon found that it more than lived up to my expectations.
Labyrinth Lost is a witchy coming-of-age story about Alejandra Mortiz, a sixteen-year-old Latina girl living in Brooklyn who just wants to go out to parties with her best friend Rishi like a normal teenager. Unfortunately for Alex, she comes from a long line of magic-wielding brujas and brujos, who all expect her to awaken her powers and formally embrace a magical life with the traditional Death Day ceremony. Her sisters Lula and Rose are both adept with their own magic and they try to get Alex interested in awakening hers. What they don’t know is that Alex’s powers have already awakened. She’s just afraid to let them out again after what happened the first time…. With her Death Day celebration looming, Alex meets a mysterious brujo boy named Nova who seems to have some answers. But when she follows his instructions for banishing her powers, she instead finds that all of her relatives (both dead and alive) who had gathered to celebrate with her have suddenly disappeared. Alex and Nova must travel together into Los Lagos, a strange shadow realm with myriad dangers, in order to get her family back.
The story of Labyrinth Lost is an interesting variant on the classic Greek trope of the journey to the underworld. Like Odysseus, Orpheus, Hercules, Aeneas, Dante, and countless others before her, Alex undertakes a nearly-impossible quest to navigate the most treacherous of landscapes in order to meet with its inhabitants, rescue her loved ones, and gain new knowledge and personal growth along the way. With Los Lagos, Zoraida Córdova has invented a unique world of magic inspired by a combination of different cultures. The Greek roots of the realm are apparent in the river of souls, the ferryman, and a few of the other mythological creatures that inhabit it, though each of these has been renamed in Spanish terminology and blended with Latino folklore. Over the course of her journey, Alex also encounters a few beings from Celtic mythology and, of course, many of the author’s own invention. I found Los Lagos to be the perfect blend of the familiar and the exciting, the traditional and the innovative. This is a world I’d love to spend more time in and learn even more about.
The other thing that really stood out to me about Labyrinth Lost was the romantic subplot. I can’t say much without spoiling anything, but I will say that Labyrinth Lost is not your stereotypical YA romance where a dark, brooding boy suddenly enters the female protagonist’s life and whisks her off on a whirlwind romance, though the book initially appears to be heading in that direction. If you’re a fan of new voices being given representation and of shaking up the same old love tropes, then definitely give this book a shot and don’t be fooled by the initial set-up.
Labyrinth Lost is exactly the type of YA fantasy that I love. It has mind-boggling magic, but the life lessons are real. It continues a literary tradition, but evolves from it rather than simply imitating the classics. The story is dark, but also uplifting. And the characters are both lovable and flawed. This will definitely have been one of my favorite books of the year.
Have you read Labyrinth Lost or any of Zoraida Córdova’s other works? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!