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 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 … — [X]
Q&A w/Zoraida Córdova
Question: Was it difficult to create—and, in some ways, recreate—the faith that Alex and her family belong to? What were the potential pitfalls you felt you had to avoid? What were the most fun parts of creating this pantheon?
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova is a rare book, one that manages to weave culture and magic into a fantasy that is both familiar and brilliantly new. Alejandra Mortiz is a bruja, but unlike her mother and sisters, Alex sees magic as a bane, a burden to be rid of as soon as possible. But Alex isn’t just any bruja. She’s an encantrix. And, as you would expect, with special witchy abilities comes a rather special witchy mistake. Friends and family lost, annoying ally found, Alex ventures into one of the most interesting, creative secondary worlds I’ve read in a good long while. Los Lagos is, at once, chock full of colour and magic, while also being rather drained of life. It kind of reminded me of Hiromi Goto’s Half World–which, if you know me at all, tells you how much I loved reading about Los Lagos.
While the settings–both Los Lagos and Brooklyn–are pretty brilliant, they pale in comparison to the cast of characters that Córdova has created to inhabit her world. Alex is a curious protagonist–very different from other magic-wielding characters I’ve read because of her fear and dislike of her own powers. And while she isn’t unknowable, her personality and her story slowly unfolds over the course of the novel. Everything we learn from her, we learn at her own pace, rather than having the plot wrench out her secrets. The same goes for Nova. His description in the synopsis leaves something to be desired, but that is not the case in the novel. Nova is exceedingly well-written, not just as someone who flits between being an ally and an antagonist, but also as someone who most decidedly is not there for the purposes of a romantic subplot.
It’s not just the main players, however, that Córdova does right by. Every line from every character, be it the ghost of Alex’s godmother, or Alex’s best friend Rishi (who fights her way into Alex’s adventure and is my favourite) is meaningful and important. Not in a violins-play-for-dramatic-effect-every-time-I-talk sort of way, but rather in a way that implies that everyone is significant to Alex in some way, and that nobody is a token sidekick. The same attention to detail shows in Córdova’s writing–be it the way she uses existing language and culture re/create worlds and people, or in the way these re/created worlds and peoples effect our own language. Here’s an exchange between Alex and her sister to better illustrate (I hope) what I mean:
Lula reaches over and slaps the back of my head. “Spells are for witches. Brujas do cantos.”
“Semantics,” I say. “All brujas are witches but not all witches are brujas.”
I don’t know if there was anything I disliked about Labyrinth Lost. I did feel like the pacing of the first few chapters was slow, but I also feel like our understanding of Alex’s relationship with her family and with Rishi would have been lost had these chapters been edited. I think there should have been a gender neutral/inclusive word instead of (or in addition to) “bruja” and “brujo”, but I mean, this is only the start of something special–I am hopeful that any future books in this series will take this into consideration. Apart from that, I don’t really have any reservations about Córdova’s novel. It’s smart, funny, and–like its protagonist–is both powerful and empowering. Definitely recommended.