Book Review: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Image Description: book cover of Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova. The cover has a purple tint across entire cover, in the background is a golden gate with a skulls design within the entrance doors of the gate. In front of the gate is the silhouette a female figure, the female figure is standing in front of the gate with her back to the viewer.

Title: Labyrinth Lost (Book #1 of the Brooklyn Brujas series)
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Social Media: Goodreads, Tumblr and Twitter
Publisher: Recorded Books
Format and Price: Audiobook at $14.95
Rating: 3 out of 5

About The Author:
Zoraida Córdova is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and the Brooklyn Brujas series. Her latest novel, Labyrinth Lost, was a Best Book of 2016 and has been optioned for film by Paramount Studios. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. She is a New Yorker at heart and is currently working on her next novel.

About The Book:
Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone.

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 Brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings 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… Beautiful Creatures meets Daughter of Smoke and Bone with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the novel.

Things I Enjoyed About The Novel:
~Book Cover Design: Both versions of the book-cover design are gorgeous, the moment I saw the cover, I knew I wanted to read this book. Although I will acknowledge that I prefer the cover with a close-up picture of Alex’s face with her Death-day make-up on.

~World Building: I love the Latinx mythology and magic system. I loved the spells and rituals. While I loved the adventure to Los Lagos and all the beings there, I think the narrative was most compelling when it focused on Alex’s family and their everyday lives. The author really captured the family essence, Lula and Rose had distinctive voices, and Alex’s mother was actually a great mum when given the opportunity. I know this sounds like “giving out a gold star to for doing what you’re supposed to be doing”, but I was so happy to read a novel with such a great level female solidarity and so many different types of female characters (with believable vices and virtues). More of this is the YA Genre!

~Representation Matters: I’m not in a position to judge the Latinx Representation in the novel, so I’ll include links to Naz @ Read Diverse Books and Latinxs in Kid Lit. With regards to the Bisexual representation, I was super happy when Alex confessed to her mother how she felt about Rishi. While its subtly hinted at throughout the novel that Rishi might have more than platonic feelings for Alex, it’s not clear how Alex feels about Rishi until pretty much the end of the novel. While Alex and her mother don’t use labels in their conversation, it’s realistic at that point in time that Alex doesn’t have all the answers and is still trying to figure it out. I also really liked how Alex’s mother just quietly accepted the situation, although I would have prefered a more direct form of acceptance.

Things I Didn’t Like About The Novel:
~YA Brooding Love Interest: As great as it is that this book centres around Latinx Representation, the character archetype of the YA Brooding Love Interest isn’t appealing to me. Let see: Nova has a Dark and Troubled Childhood, he’s good-looking to the point where nearly all the girls want him (with the exception of Rishi), he’s a mixture of arrogance and cockiness overcompensating for insecurities, and Alex and Nova bicker constantly (which is also presented as flirting). I think that’s almost all the cliche boxes ticked.

In saying that, I think Nova had a point when he called Alex out on her behaviour at the Deathday party, if I saw a girl resenting everything I had ever wanted, I’d call her a brat too. I think Nova’s characterisation depends on whether he’s a once off character we don’t see again or if he’s going to be a reoccurring character with a redemption arch of his own.

~Stupid Pointless Love Triangle: *sigh* I understand that some book reviewers didn’t mind this aspect, it wasn’t a central part of the story, but it wasn’t until near the end of the story that Rishi and Alex’s feelings moved from friendship to something more. To me, a Love Triangle is always pointless, it didn’t need to be there at all, and it didn’t add anything to the narrative.

I feel, at this point in the series, that Nova is in love with the idea of Alex and everything she represents. Nova is just so desperate for someone to care about him, so desperate for some form of bond that he’s willing to attach to anyone. It makes sense given his back-story, and it’s understandable that this would happen, but being in love with the idea of someone is not the same as loving someone for who they really are.

~Poor Communication Kills: If the adults in Alex’s life had taken the time to acknowledge the scarier elements of being apart of a Magical Kitchen-Sink World, the events of the novel might not have happened. It’s easy to say that Magic is a gift when you have the traditionally perceived “good power” of being able to heal people.

The only two people in Alex’s family willing to acknowledge that sometimes Magic was a burden were both dead and the events of the narrative had to unfold before this truth was acknowledged. Although I will acknowledge that Alex called her Grandmother out for not being there for her and her sisters and that her mother was doing the best she could do, given the circumstances.

Better late than never isn’t good enough for me. I know I’m probably one of the few readers that takes umbrage with this plot device in the novel, and some readers may even think this is realistic. I’m well aware that sometimes families aren’t willing to talk about traumatic family events. But I strongly feel that the job of a parent to is to have those certain conversations with children or young adults, even if it’s super awkward or painful.

Take the incident when the demon creature attacked Alex and her family. In cliche “Chosen One” style, the adults in Alex’s life talk about her, but not one of these adults in the community circle-group talks directly to Alex. The adults give her the responsibility of an adult but then treat her like a child. The YA Genre needs to get better at this. Hell, the Real World needs to get better at this.

~Mental Projections and Mental Intrusions: I have strong views on “Intrusions of the Mind” trope within media. If you enter a person’s mind without permission, or if you alter someone’s mind without permission, my opinion on the matter is that this action comes under the category of Mind Rape. My opinion on the matter is not going to change. An act such as projecting your memories into someone else’s mind can be and should be considered a violation.

Throughout the novel, Acts of Mental Intrusion occur frequently, some of them are minor, such as when Alex’s younger sister Rose senses the imprints of lingering memories on everyday items. Some of them are major, such as when Rose is possessed by a spirit during the novel. Alex also begins to experience memory imprint moments as well when she touches The Devourer and Nova projects his entire past, movie-reel style, into Alex’s mind. There is also the problem that, after Alex’s family has been banished, Alex herself invaded Nova’s body with her magic, in a fit of rage, she almost lost control. She could have killed him.

My problem with these incidents is that no-one treats these incidents seriously or with the gravity these incidents deserve.

Rose is probably going to need a shit-ton of a therapy over the course of her life, but I doubt that this is something that’s going to be acknowledged. Alex’s attack on Nova is super problematic at the beginning, however, she does reign herself in and I think she apologies for her actions (I’m not sure on this). Then there’s the fact that Nova projected his memories into Alex’s mind a way of explaining why he did the things he did. This moment is problematic not just because of Mind-Rape elements to it, it’s also problematic because it’s bad writing.

The flashback episode is occurring right near the climax, Alex and Nova don’t have time to stand around and play the “Let Me Explain My Motives” game, but that’s exactly what they do. The flashbacks slow down the story’s momentum, but the worst part is that it wasn’t like Nova’s backstory or deeper motives were that hard to figure out. I’m fairly certain Young Adult audiences are capable of reading between the lines and could have figured out the hows and whys for themselves, it was pretty obvious that Nova had a crappy childhood.

The thing is Alex is justifiably angry at the edge of the climax and, in that moment, Alex doesn’t care about Nova’s intentions because the reality is that his intentions of his actions don’t count, only the impact of them. Nova’s motivations or justifications don’t matter at that point in time because Alex is about to lose her family for good.

If perhaps, during the epilogue, Nova had shown up at Alex’s doorstep and asked permission to show her, I think it might have come across better. I’m not saying Alex should forgive him, she shouldn’t have to, not every character deserves a redemption arch, however, I think being reunited with her family after almost losing them might have given her a better understanding of the situation.

In conclusion, it may seem like I didn’t like this novel and, let’s be honest, there are a few problems that I hope can be addressed in Book Two: Bruja Born, however, I did enjoy reading this. Once I started reading it, it was difficult to for me to put down, however, due to the problematic elements, I can see why this series might not be for everyone.

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