Fiction Unbound contributors CS Peterson and Amanda Baldeneaux got together to discuss their most recent read—Labyrinth Lost, by author Zoraida Córdova, a contemporary YA fantasy about the coming of age of Alex, a Latina encantrix living in contemporary Brooklyn. On her 16th birthday, Alex dreads celebrating her Deathday, the day her family will gather together and call the spirits of the ancestors to bless her and her powers. Alex doesn’t want her powers, though, as she only sees them as trouble. When she attempts to reject the blessing from her ancestors, she accidentally banishes their spirits to Los Lagos, the magical world of deities, fairies, and an evil bruja, the Devourer, who has taken over the land. The Devourer wants Alex’s powers, and threatens to destroy Alex’s family if Alex doesn’t give them to her. Alex follows a portal into Los Lagos with her best friend and a strange boy with black tattoos all over his body, embarking on a hero's journey that breaks with the traditional Western mold.
CS Peterson: I really enjoyed the fact that Alex’s story is a hero’s journey that is not based on northern European mythology. There is a whole planet full of magical traditions. Each one reflects our human efforts to understand and order the unknowable mysteries that surround us. The magical worlds of contemporary YA fantasy thus far have been built almost exclusively on the backs of Egypt/Greek/Rome/Nordic schemas. As if the beliefs informing the world-building of fantasy writers were limited to the received canon of the mythical development of the colonizing class.
Córdova says in the Author’s Note that she names her witches “brujas and brujos because their origins do not come from northern Europe or Salem. Alex’s ancestors come from Ecuador, Spain, Africa, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Her magic is like Latin America—a combination of the old world and new.” It is an energetic mix that informs the fantasy realm of Los Lagos. Mama Juanita stands with Alex on the surface of a pond at one point. I couldn’t help thinking of Beyoncé referencing the Youba orisha Oshun in the “Hold Up” track from Lemonade. Oshun is the deity that governs water, growth and love. She’s portrayed dressed in yellow, walking on water, often with a cigarillo, like Mama Juanita. Córdova builds the world of Los Lagos from these inspirations, without co-opting the specifics of any particular faith practice. The Deathday coming-of-age rite, a vivid creation of the author’s imagination, blends seamlessly with details chosen from disparate cultural traditions, like calling the deities of Alex’s world“Deos”—Latin for “the gods”.