By: Hannah Rapp, Young Adult Librarian
It’s not every day you find a book you devour most of in a day and have a chance to meet the author. Having done both, I think it’s safe to say I’m a little obsessed with today’s What I Just Read book.
What I Just Read: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
What’s It About (Jacket Description): 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 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…
Do I Like It: SO. MUCH.
Thoughts: Oh my goodness. This book, y’all. THIS BOOK. I’d been hearing about Labyrinth Lost for a few months, so when I finally got it checked out right before I left for a conference, I was thrilled. Even better? The author, Zoraida Córdova was at the conference. So I’ll admit, with all the buzz and starting the book literally within hours of meeting the author, I was predisposed to like Labyrinth Lost.
But I was also a little worried about it not living up to the hype. Nothing kills a good reading high like going from something you love to something disappointing. Luckily for me, Labyrinth Lost was all I hoped and then some. Magic, family, adventure, friendship, romance – this book has basically everything I want from my fantasy novels. Add in some dragons and it would be perfect.
At its heart, Labyrinth Lost is a classic “hero’s journey,” but with a few fun twists. Our heroine, Alex, gets a call like any other hero – but also not. Her call is the awakening of her powers, powers she’s known about her whole life, powers her mother and sisters embrace. But although the call is not unique to her, Alex, like many other heroes, rejects it. Unfortunately, rejecting the call is precisely what sets her on the path for her quest, because, as it turns out, banishing her powers means banishing her family. And Alex loves her family more than anything.
I loved that Labyrinth Lost was a familiar quest story, but also that it plays with some of the tropes. Alex is not learning about powers she never knew she had, she’s simply learning to accept a part of her she’s known about all along. And while she screws up plenty on her journey, the story isn’t about Alex getting drawn into an adventure by someone else, Baggins-style, but instead about her taking responsibility for her own mistake and dragging herself off on an adventure.
Like most books I love, Labyrinth Lost excels at portraying complicated, intense relationships, particularly when it comes to Alex’s family. Her father’s gone, she feels distant from her mother, fights with her older sister, and doesn’t quite understand her powerful younger sister. She prefers focusing on school and athletics rather than communing with dead spirits and looking through the Book of Cantos, the heart of her family’s spell-casting. But never, even at the beginning when she resents them, does Alex question her love for her family. She puts them above everything, and even her fear and dislike of her own power is born largely from her love of her family, and her fear on their behalf.
Alex’s interactions with her best friend, Rishi, and her guide in Los Lagos, Nova, are also really well-done. Nova is something of a mystery, and Alex (and the reader) are unsure of his motivations or how much to trust him. But he’s also charismatic and likable, and puts himself in great danger for Alex, and watching her try to balance how much she likes him and is drawn to him with how much she distrusts him is fascinating. As for Rishi, the best friend who accepts Alex fully no matter what, she’s kind and magnetic, and it’s easy to see why Alex falls for her. But the romantic element of their friendship never overpowers the fact that it is also a friendship, and a great one. I love that Córdova doesn’t make the romance and friendship mutually exclusive; after all, are any of our relationships just one thing?
On top of all this great characterization and relationships, there is a page-turning adventure with some immersive world-building. Elements of Los Lagos and bruja magic reminded me of this mythology or that, this trope or that, but without ever being clearly based on just one thing. That gives the world of Labyrinth Lost both the comfort of familiarity, and the excitement of a whole new world and magical system.
If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, I loved Labyrinth Lost, and I can’t wait for the sequel. If you like magic, otherworldly adventures, quests, or great relationships, I highly recommend this book!