Labyrinth Lost

labyrinth-lost

Labyrinth Lost was written by Zoraida Córdova and first published in 2016. It is a fantasy novel about a teenage bruja who is forced to travel across a hostile spirit world to save her kidnapped family. The story forms the first part of the Brooklyn Brujas series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Alex has grown up hating her family’s magic ever since an encounter with her Aunt’s reanimated corpse. Although her sisters – Lula and Rose – take pride in their abilities, Alex wants nothing more than to be normal. However, Lula is certain that her sister’s power is just being blocked and will try anything to get it to surface. What she doesn’t know is that Alex has been hiding a power so terrible that it scares her. She has kept her magic a secret for years, praying that it will go away.

After an incident at school, her secret is revealed. Naturally, her family is thrilled. She is an Encantrix – the rarest and most powerful of brujas – and her mother rushes to arrange Alex’s Deathday to call upon their ancestors to bless her powers. With no one listening to her fears, Alex finds herself confiding in a young brujo named Nova. Nova reveals to her that there is a way to ask the gods to remove a bruja’s power and Alex sets about obtaining the items to sabotage her Deathday. However, that’s when things start to go wrong.

As her spell backfires, she summons a terrifying apparition who drags her entire family into Los Lagos, the place where spirits wait after death. Alex learns that the being – known as the Devourer – will only hold on to her family until the next eclipse and then will feed on their souls. With Nova at her side, she travels to Los Lagos to rescue them. But Los Lagos is a world of hidden dangers, especially for one as powerful and untrained as Alex…

I have to admit that I primarily chose to review Labyrinth Lost because of its beautiful cover, but I’m glad that I did. It quickly became apparent while I was reading that it really was something special. The novel is brilliantly imaginative and pretty unique, drawing its inspirations from Spanish Folklore, the Mexican Day of the Dead and Santeria. The result was the birth of a world where the dead and the living exist side by side and brujas and brujos (witches) draw their power from a pantheon on unseen gods and the blessings of the deceased.

As Alex and her friends travel across Los Lagos – the magical realm where the dead wait for what is to come next – the reader is treated to a beautiful yet hostile world. Los Lagos really is a feast for the imagination. It’s a world known for its vibrant beauty and untamed magic but it’s started to fall to rot under the Devourer’s rule. Now dangers are draped in glamour, not revealing themselves until Alex gets too close. After a few near-death experiences, she learns that everything must be looked at twice to avoid the deadly traps and murderous creatures that stand between her and the labyrinth where her family is being held.

The plot is fast paced and immediately draws you in, starting with the horrifying experience that traumatised Alex as young girl. There are no real explanations about the bruja culture and beliefs and our first experiences are pretty eerie – tribal dances of skull-faced witches and the raising of dead relatives. The novel is very light on exposition, allowing readers to discover more about Alex’s world at a steady pace. As we view the world through Alex’s eyes, it seems sinister to begin with but it soon starts to become clear that death is what you make about it. The brujas and brujos have learned that there is no point in fearing the inevitable and the dead still exist to watch over the living.

The story is largely self-contained, gradually building towards Alex’s final encounter with the Devourer. While the ending of the story was maybe a little rushed, it was certainly exciting and lead to a satisfying conclusion. While the plot did tie up pretty nicely, it still left threads hanging (such as how Aunt Rosaria died) to be picked up in a future volume. The epilogue also contained a bit of a cliffhanger which felt a little cheap, however didn’t annoy me quite as much as some of the other ones that I’ve spoken about. I won’t spoil it for you here but it was more of a final shocking sting than an ending that left the story feeling unfinished.

The only place where the story fell down was in its core cast. While it was great to read a novel where the entire cast were not white (the core cast are a mixture of people of Latin American and Indian descent, and at Alex and Rishi were portrayed as being bisexual and lesbian respectively), the romance in the novel felt a little forced. While there was a very vague love triangle between Alex, Rishi and Nova, little was made of it. The three characters shared the occasional quiet moment but they never seemed to click. While I was totally behind an Alex/Rishi paring by the end of the novel, there wasn’t really any build up to Alex winding up with either of her admirers. The three of them spoke about love but I never actually felt it.

However, Alex was a fantastic protagonist. She just felt so real. She possessed a terrible destructive power that she never asked for and I could fully understand the choices that she made. While some characters believed her to be selfish (and, to a degree, she was), Alex was also completely alone. Her fears were brushed off by her family, she was unable to talk about her problems with non-magical Rishi and she kept the secret about her father’s disappearance for fear it would make people hate her. Although her actions leading up to her Deathday are irresponsible and extreme, she really was driven to them by her family. So much could have been avoided if they’d taken the time to listen to Alex’s worries and help her put them to rest.

Following the Deathday, Alex’s journey through Los Lagos is really a coming of age story. Through her experiences with the various fae, spirits and monsters on the road the labyrinth, she starts to discover herself and see her magic in a more positive light. Her encounters with the Devourer also quickly take on deeper meaning as she discovers the demon’s origins and starts to see how easy it would be to find herself in the same position. As she heads towards her inevitable final confrontation, Alex slowly learns who she is and what it really means to be a bruja.

Sorry for the short review this week but I don’t really have anything to criticise. Labyrinth Lost is a fantastic novel. It has a diverse cast, wonderful world building and a magic system that really causes it to stand out from the crowd. This is definitely a novel that I’d recommend and I look forward to seeing where the series goes in a future review.

Labyrinth Lost can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: The Sobeks 2016 – Part 3 | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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