Alice in Wonderland meets Charmed with robust African and Latin-American traditions and background in Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova.
Alex is a bruja in a long line of brujas. Her Deathday – when she comes into full power with the blessing of her family and all the dead brujas who came before her – is approaching. But unlike her mother and sisters, Alex actually mistrusts magic. After all, magic has done nothing good for her: her godmother died young because of it and her father disappeared after her magic did something so sinister he got scared of her.
When her Deathday arrives, Alex takes a shot in assuming control of her own life by performing a spell which brings unexpected, awful consequences: her entire family disappears. Her only clue is a brujo boy named Nova who seems to know a bit too much about the place where they need to go to save them all – Los Lagos, a magical in-between underworld populated with strange creatures, dead relatives, and an incredibly powerful bruja with an evil agenda.
Mixing ideas from Ecuadorian, Spanish, African, Mexican, and Caribbean backgrounds, Labyrinth Lost is a story of dichotomy and identity: between here and there, between childhood and growing up, bruja and non-bruja, between independence and the pull of family.
We from Latin America are used to a dichotomous view of the world. It’s who we are, in the languages we speak, in the religions we follow. After all, we are European but-not-really, with syncretic religious systems that incorporate influences from various religions and with languages that are a mix-and-match of exodus Latin, multiple native Latin American sources with an added side of different African languages in the mix.
All of this rich background is vividly fused into the story, and, standing in the middle of a crossroads, Alex needs to pave her own way, deciding who she wants to be in order to become whole. The journey is fantastic, fast-paced, intriguing, and incredibly cool. Plus, I loved Alex’s relationship with her family and her sisters so much.
One of Alex’s decisions refers to her own sexuality and it behoves me to say that Labyrinth Lost has a love triangle. Even though the official cover copy mentions only Nova-the-boy in a weird heteronormative way, I am here to tell you that this is bullshit and that there is another (winning!) love interest: a girl, Alex’s wonderful best friend Rishi, who becomes their travel companion. I am aware this constitutes spoiling but I am equally aware of the importance of highlighting that this book has a bi protagonist who ends up with the other girl. Those who need to read this book, need to be able to find it. Consider this is your friendly PSA.
I have a weakness for stories about the underworld, for quests involving girls, and for a friends-turned-lovers storyline, so I could have read one million pages of this story. Therein lies my main criticism: parts of Labyrinth Lost are very rushed, especially those concerning the relationship between Nova and Alex and parts of their quest. This is a story that deserved more room to develop, more time to explore its amazing plot– and I feel that this one book could have easily been an awesome trilogy.
Pair it off with Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older and you have two of the most exciting examples of how good – and relevant, modern, fresh - YA novels are.In Booksmugglerish, 7 out of 10.