Book 1: Labyrinth Lost
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This is the first book in a new fantasy series, Brooklyn Brujas, by Ecuadorian-born Zoraida Córdova. According to notes at the back of the book she used some traditional stories from her homeland, combined with others from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Africa, etc, but some elements are of her own invention. Labyrinth Lost is set in present day Brooklyn, the main characters being an extended family of brujas/brujos (witches). Alejandra Mortiz is fifteen, second of three girls in her family; Lula is a year or two older, Rose is the youngest. All of them possess certain powers, as do their mother, other relatives, and close friends. I'm not sure about her father, who disappeared about ten years earlier. Most everyone else believes he is dead, but Alejandra thinks otherwise.
Most people call her Alex, although her mother usually uses her full name, and Lula sometimes calls her Alé (pronounced Ah-LAY). Lula's main power is for healing, while Rose seems to have pre-cognitive abilities. Everyone in the family is frustrated that Alex's abilities have not manifested yet, but they hope that will change on her upcoming "Deathday," a ritual coming-of-age ceremony in which a person calls on their dead ancestors to guide them in realizing their destiny. There's a problem though. That is the last thing Alex wants, since she is convinced an early manifestation of her powers is what scared her father away. Since then she has consciously suppressed her abilities, wanting to be free of them. She has also kept the secret of her family's powers from her best friend, Rishi. All of that is about to change. During a shopping expedition to gather things for her Deathday ceremony, Alex encounters the mysterious Nova, another brujo, who works at the local spice/potion/spell shop as a delivery boy. She realizes she had seen him a couple of days before, when Lula's boyfriend nearly ran him over with his car on the way to school. For reasons she can't explain, she confides in him about her anxiety over her powers, and inquires if there is any way she can renounce them altogether. Nova cautions her not to tempt fate, and promises he will bring some special ingredients to make her party a big success.
It's not a success. Instead of her ancestors appearing before her, a dark portal is opened and all of her family is sucked away. Nova, who had already left the house, returns when he hears Alex's screams. He tells her a dark spirit has taken them to the underworld of Los Lagos, and that he knows how to create another portal to follow and rescue them. The rest of the book reads like a dark, gritty, and gory take on Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz, with maybe a bit of Orpheus descending to the underworld. Los Lagos is a limbo inhabited by souls of the dead hoping for some resolution to their fate, so that they can move on to either Heaven or Hell, or whatever their final resting place may be. Alex learns there are some who are not dead, but have been trapped there for various reasons, even some who have made the journey of their own volition, since the real world was too much for them to endure. They learn of the Devourer, who has been slowly ravaging Los Lagos for a long time, utilizing some creatures who have magical abilities to trap others, all so that she can feed off their energy. Alex learns the most likely place to find her family is at the Tree of Souls, and that they must get there before the next lunar eclispse, but there are many dangers before that, and the tree is surrounded by a labyrinth of horrors. Even if they manage to reach the labyrinth, can they survive the dangers within, and if so, how will they free those trapped in the Tree?
I won't answer those questions. Considering it's the first book in a series, you can assume some will survive, but a few details of the journey might be surprising. The opening chapters were a little slow, with too much reiteration of Alex's anxiety over her powers, while still not fully explaining what it was she did to frighten her father, or if it was explained I missed some details. Once in Los Lagos, the story hits on all cylinders. Without her even realizing it, Alex grows into her powers quickly, making unlikely alliances with some who had previously tried to hurt her, gaining their confidence to join her in the fight. There are also betrayals and a very surprising appearance by someone not at all connected with Alex's supernatural world. I'm not sure how the author would classify this series, but someone at fantasticfiction.com labeled them as for adults only. I don't think that's right. There are some disturbing scenes, as well as mature themes, but handled subtly and with taste. Probably not for pre-teens, but I think 13 or 14 and up is okay. No upper age limit though, as this 67-year-old can attest. Alex finally learns what many others had already expected, that she is an encantrix, possibly the strongest bruja in many generations. I would have expected the second book to further explore her powers, or maybe shift the focus to Rose, but the author says it will be Lula. I'm sure the two younger sisters will figure into the action, or at least I hope they do, and I'm anxious to find out. Recommended.
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