Book Review: Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

 

Reviewed by Cindy L. Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley; ARC received from Sourcebooks Fire.

Labyrinth Lost CoverDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER:  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 brujo boy she can’t trust. 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…

OUR TWO CENTS: We’re thrilled to kick off our new blogging year with a celebration of Labyrinth Lost, an action-packed, urban, portal fantasy with a powerful, complex Latina main character. This novel tackles family, friendship, love, survival, and self-acceptance all while Alejandra Mortiz and her friends Nova and Rishi fight for their lives in a dangerous underworld.

Alex, a 16-year-old Ecuadorian-Puerto Rican, has been fighting against her magical powers for years, feeling her growing abilities are more of a burden than a blessing. She believes her magic is responsible for her father’s disappearance, and she fears more harm will come to herself and her family if she wholly embraces her magic during her Deathday ceremony. Alex, therefore, sabotages the ceremony, which causes her family to be kidnapped from their Brooklyn home to Los Lagos, where they may die at the hands of The Devourer, an evil, power-hungry bruja who’s happy to destroy anyone who gets in her way. The first few chapters really establish Alex’s character and her position in her family so that you understand and care about how conflicted and guilty she is about her family’s disappearance. The stakes could not be higher, and you want Alex to succeed.

Labyrinth 1Alex’s journey through Los Lagos feels very classic. The different communities she encounters, each with its own history and strengths and weaknesses, may remind readers of classic adventures like The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, and Alice in Wonderland. Every new area of Los Lagos brings a ton of action. Not every writer can create battle scenes so the reader can clearly visualize them without having to re-read. Zoraida is GREAT at this.

For those who like some romance with their action-adventure story, Labyrinth Lost delivers there as well. Alex has feelings for both Nova and Rishi throughout the narrative, making her one of the few bisexual Latinas in young adult fiction. We especially love that neither Alex’s bisexuality nor her bruja lifestyle are depicted as “issues” or morally problematic. Alex struggles to accept the responsibility and consequences of her magic and her place within her immediate family and the larger bruja community with its deep history and traditions. But, neither her cultural identities or sexual preferences are depicted as “the problems,” thank the Deos.

Labyrinth Lost, the first in a series, ends in a way that will leave you hungry for the sequel with promises of further family complications and more development of secondary characters, Nova and Rishi. We can’t wait!

TEACHING TIPS: 

  • compare/contrast inhabitants of Los Lagos with creatures from other folklore traditions and classical mythology
  • research Santeria and other traditions listed in the author note–which is amazing and a must-read
  • re-write a key scene from the point of view of Nova or Rishi
  • include this novel in a study of the supernatural, and witches specifically, in literature, along with titles such as MacBeth.

    Zoraida 3      Zoraida 2

AND NOW FOR TONS OF AWESOME BONUS STUFF, including Chapter 1, the book trailer, and a giveaway!!

FIRST, you’ve got to see this:

NOW, you’ve got to read this:

Chapter 1:

Follow our voices, sister.

Tell us the secret of your death.

—-Resurrection Canto,
Book of Cantos
The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.

Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”

But I was seven and asked too many questions. Every Sunday, cars piled up in our driveway, down the street, and around the corner of our old, narrow house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mom’s Circle usually brought cellophane–wrapped dishes and jars of dirt and tubs of brackish water that made the Hudson River look clean. This time, they carried something more.

When my sisters started snoring, I threw off my covers and crept down the stairs. The floorboards were uneven and creaky, but I was good at not being seen. Fuzzy, yellow streetlight shone through our attic window and followed me down every flight until I reached the basement.

A soft hum made its way through the thin walls. I remember thinking I should listen to my mom’s warning and go back upstairs. But our house had been restless all week, and Lula, Rose, and I were shoved into the attic, out of the way while the grown–ups prepared the funeral. I wanted out. I wanted to see.

The night was moonless and cold one week after the Witch’s New Year, when Aunt Rosaria died of a sickness that made her skin yellow like hundred–year–old paper and her nails turn black as coal. We tried to make her beautiful again. My sisters and I spent all day weaving good luck charms from peonies, corn husks, and string—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. Not even the morticians, the Magos de Muerte, could fix her once–lovely face.

Aunt Rosaria was dead. I was there when we mourned her. I was there when we buried her. Then, I watched my father and two others shoulder a dirty cloth bundle into the house, and I knew I couldn’t stay in bed, no matter what my mother said.

So I opened the basement door.

Red light bathed the steep stairs. I leaned my head toward the light, toward the beating sound of drums and sharp plucks of fat, nylon guitar strings.

A soft mew followed by whiskers against my arm made my heart jump to the back of my rib cage. I bit my tongue to stop the scream. It was just my cat, Miluna. She stared at me with her white, glowing eyes and hissed a warning, as if telling me to turn back. But Aunt Rosaria was my godmother, my family, my friend. And I wanted to see her again.

“Sh!” I brushed the cat’s head back.

Miluna nudged my leg, then ran away as the singing started.

I took my first step down, into the warm, red light. Raspy voices called out to our gods, the Deos, asking for blessings beyond the veil of our worlds. Their melody pulled me step by step until I was crouched at the bottom of the landing.

They were dancing.

Brujas and brujos were dressed in mourning white, their faces painted in the aspects of the dead, white clay and black coal to trace the bones. They danced in two circles—-the outer ring going clockwise, the inner counterclockwise—hands clasped tight, voices vibrating to the pulsing drums.

And in the middle was Aunt Rosaria.

Her body jerked upward. Her black hair pooled in the air like she was suspended in water. There was still dirt on her skin. The white skirt we buried her in billowed around her slender legs. Black smoke slithered out of her open mouth. It weaved in and out of the circle—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. It tugged Aunt Rosaria higher and higher, matching the rhythm of the canto.

Then, the black smoke perked up and changed its target. It could smell me. I tried to backpedal, but the tiles were slick, and I slid toward the circle. My head smacked the tiles. Pain splintered my skull, and a broken scream lodged in my throat.

The music stopped. Heavy, tired breaths filled the silence of the pulsing red dark. The enchantment was broken. Aunt Rosaria’s reanimated corpse turned to me. Her body purged black smoke, lowering her back to the ground. Her ankles cracked where the bone was brittle, but still she took a step. Her dead eyes gaped at me. Her wrinkled mouth growled my name: Alejandra.

She took another step. Her ankle turned and broke at the joint, sending her flying forward. She landed on top of me. The rot of her skin filled my nose, and grave dirt fell into my eyes.

Tongues clucked against crooked teeth. The voices of the circle hissed, “What’s the girl doing out of bed?”

There was the scent of extinguished candles and melting wax. Decay and perfume oil smothered me until they pulled the body away.

My mother jerked me up by the ear, pulling me up two flights of stairs until I was back in my bed, the scream stuck in my throat like a stone.

Never,” she said. “You hear me, Alejandra? Never break a Circle.”

I lay still. So still that after a while, she brushed my hair, thinking I had fallen asleep.

I wasn’t. How could I ever sleep again? Blood and rot and smoke and whispers filled my head.

“One day you’ll learn,” she whispered.

Then she went back down the street–lit stairs, down into the warm red light and to Aunt Rosaria’s body. My mother clapped her hands, drums beat, strings plucked, and she said, “Again.”

AND NOW, you’ve got to get this:

To find Labyrinth Lost, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble. You can also…..

CLICK HERE FOR A RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY

317988_632439229822_92623787_nABOUT THE AUTHOR: Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic.

Author Website: http://www.zoraidacordova.com/

Labyrinth Lost Website: http://books.sourcebooks.com/labyrinth-lost/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CordovaBooks

Twitter:  @zlikeinzorro

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wanderwheel/

Author Tumblr: http://wanderlands.tumblr.com/

Labyrinth Lost Tumblr: http://labyrinthlostbooks.tumblr.com/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ZoraidaLand

Labyrinth Lost Coloring Page: http://www.sourcebooks.com/images/LabyrinthLost-ColoringPage.pdf

Diversity Needed Under the Sea: Not All Mermaids Have Blond Hair and Blue Eyes

By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This month, we’re taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. On Monday, Zoraida Córdova explained how instead of writing about her immigration experience, which seemed expected of her, she decided to write about what interested her most: merfolk.

While there have been hundreds of children’s books published about mermaids, very very very few have featured mermaids or mermen who did not have blond or red hair and blue or green eyes. We asked via Twitter if anyone knew of a Latin@ YA author, other than Zoraida, who wrote about merpeople, or books, other than Zoraida’s The Vicious Deep series, that featured diverse characters. We didn’t get any responses. So, the world under the sea seems to be another area of kid lit that could use some diversifying.

If you have a mermaid story in you, waiting to be told, please consider this: every culture has its own mythology packed with gods and goddesses similar to those in Greek and Roman tales. I’m not saying you should ignore Poseidon or not create white merfolk with blond hair and blue eyes. But, think about it this way: Wouldn’t the sea god mingle with mermaids of color if he is responsible for all of the seas in the world? Knowing that merfolk exist in Mexican, Brazilian, Caribbean, and African mythology, to name a few, gives you the opportunity to diversify your mermaid community. And I know we’re talking about fantasy fiction here, so really you can do whatever you want, including making your mermaids purple, green, or any other color. But, if your writing is rooted in known mythological stories, then keep in mind that mythological stories exist beyond Greece and Rome, so your merfolk don’t all have to look the same.

Check these out:

A cool Tumblr dedicated to mermaids of color.

The City Gallery at Waterfront Park in Charleston, South Carolina, had an exhibit called Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art had an exhibit on Mami Wata (Mother Water), the water spirit of Africa.

Iemanja.JPG    

L to R: The first two images are of Iemanjá, Brazil’s goddess of the sea, who is sometimes portrayed as a mermaid. The image on the right is a bronze statue of Iara, a water queen. The statue is outisde the Alvorada Palace, the official presidential residence in Brasília.

                                   

On the left is a Loteria card, part of a Mexican game of chance, featuring La Sirena (the siren). On the right is a work of art by Jose Garcia Antonio of San Antonino Castillo Velasco, Oaxaca, Mexico seen at the Museo de Culturas Populares in Coyoacan, Mexico City.

confetti-cannon-oAnd now, we’d like to celebrate our own Zoraida Córdova, mermaid expert and writer extraordinaire. Why? Because she’s a Latina writer with a diverse cast of characters in the deep blue sea. And her final novel of The Vicious Deep trilogy, published by Sourcebooks Fire, released on July 1!

Here’s a run down of her series:

12246929For Tristan Hart, everything changes with one crashing wave. He was gone for three days. Sucked out to sea in a tidal wave and spit back ashore at Coney Island with no memory of what happened. Now his dreams are haunted by a terrifying silver mermaid with razor-sharp teeth. His best friend Layla is convinced something is wrong. But how can he explain he can sense emotion like never before? How can he explain he’s heir to a kingdom he never knew existed? That he’s suddenly a pawn in a battle as ancient as the gods. Something happened to him in those three days. He was claimed by the sea…and now it wants him back.

13092528A storm is coming…The ocean is a vicious place. Deeper and darker than Tristan could have imagined. Beneath its calm blue surface, an ancient battle is churning —and no one is safe. In the quest for the Sea Throne, Tristan has already watched one good friend die. Now he must lead the rest on a dangerous voyage in search of the trident that will make him king. But while Tristan chases his destiny, the dark forces racing against him are getting stronger, and the sea witch of his nightmares is getting closer. Battling sea dragons and savage creatures of the deep, Tristan needs his friends’ support. But they each have their secrets, and a betrayal will force Tristan to choose between his crown and his best friend Layla — the only girl he’s ever loved.

17933160

This epic clash of sand and sea will pit brother against brother–and there can only be one winner. In two days, the race for the Sea Court throne will be over-but all the rules have changed. The sea witch, Nieve, has kidnapped Layla and is raising an army of mutant sea creatures to overthrow the crown. Kurt, the one person Tristan could depend on in the battle for the Sea King’s throne, has betrayed him. Now Kurt wants the throne for himself. Tristan has the Scepter of the Earth, but it’s not enough. He’ll have to travel to the mysterious, lost Isle of Tears and unleash the magic that first created the king’s powerful scepter. It’s a brutal race to the finish, and there can only be one winner.