Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova. ★★★★
I really enjoyed the experience of reading Labyrinth Lost. It’s a book that I’d like to reread sometime in the future since tearing through it in less than twenty four hours was probably not the best way to pick up on all the thematic material.
Alejandra “Alex” Mortiz is the most powerful bruja of her generation, and she comes from a long line of powerful witches. However, Alex hates her magic and at her Deathday celebration casts a cantos intended to remove her power. But the magic works unexpectedly and traps her entire family, living and dead, in another world. Determined to save them, Alex must venture into the strange and deadly land of Los Lagos.
“I wonder what it’s like in other households during breakfast. Do their condiment shelves share space with jars of consecrated cemetery dirt and blue chicken feet? Do their mothers pray to ancient gods before they leave for work every morning? Do they keep the index finger bones of their ancestors in red velvet pouches to ward off thieves?”
I’m not a huge fan of the “I just want to be normal” trope, which Alex’s desire to be rid of her magic definitely plays into. She has other reasons beyond hating how it makes her “weird” – she accidentally killed the family cat with her magic, and she’s sure that her father left because he was afraid of her. Despite this, I never really on board with the rational. If she doesn’t like her magic, can’t she just not use it? Or will it burst out of her uncontrollably?
One of the most important threads of the book is family. Alex comes from a family of matriarchal Latina witches, currently the core of which is her mom and two sisters. Family and connections to her family (both the living and dead) is something incredibly important to Alex. It’s all very warm and loving, and it makes me wish that more YA fantasy books out there could look at familial connections like this. This theme of family is really what I want to reread the book for.
The world of Los Lagos wasn’t my favorite fantasy setting I’ve encountered, but it was all right. It had a sort of “Alice in Wonderland” feel which wasn’t really my thing. Everything with it worked, it just never stunned me in any way, with beauty or originality or the like. Some of it was that Córdova uses familiar other worldly stock types – the fairy banquet and the river of souls for instance – and none of them are different enough for me to truly appreciate them.
I mentioned before that there were some things I think I didn’t appreciate fully (the theme of family, or Alex coming into her powers) during this read through. In part this is because I was focused on analyzing every interaction Alex had with her friend Rishi, to the extent where I was showing sections to my friend and going, “Don’t you see it???”
At this point, I probably need to back up and explain. The official book blurb mentions Alex’s guide in Los Lagos, Nova, a teenage boy. I’ve read enough YA books that I figured going in that Nova = love interest. This is true. However, Nova is not the only love interest. Rishi, her female best friend, is one also. As soon as I read the first scene with Rishi, I started picking up on the subtext. I also almost immediately started trying to convince myself that it was probably just me, since books with LGBTQ protagonists are something that I normally have to search out and not a surprise gift as in this turned out to be. I didn’t want to be disappointed and since I didn’t seen anything on it’s Goodreads page about Alex being bisexual, I tried to convince myself to ignore the subtext. Only, the interactions between Alex and Rishi just kept getting more romantic. After a slow dancing scene, I figured Alex had to be bisexual because I didn’t know what the heck else could be going on. Still, I was a little hesitant until Alex and Rishi’s relationship was confirmed by the text. Which it was! This book contains a cannon bisexual love triangle and I wasn’t just deluding myself!
Since I read Labyrinth Lost as an ARC and before many other people had gotten around to reviewing it, the “Is this really happening?” experience I had will likely not be the norm. As it turns out, I could have been more through in my online searching and found a tweet from the author saying the book contains a bi romance. It would have been nice for it to be mentioned somewhere more accessible, but that’s a problem with how the book is packaged and marketed, not the book itself. It would have saved me some anxiety right there at the beginning though.
The whole thing did make for a fairly unusual reading experience, which is why I want to reread it at some point. What will I think of the book when I know that yes, the protagonist is actually bisexual and it’s not just me? Would I like it as much? What might I notice that I’ve overlooked?
Regardless, I did enjoy reading Labyrinth Lost and will be enthusiastically recommending it in the future. Matriarchy of Latina witches! Magic and spirits! A bisexual love triangle! If any of these things at all appeal, I strongly suggest you read Labyrinth Lost.
I received a free ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The book is released on September 8th 2016.