Review: Labyrinth Lost

When I decided I was only going to review books that I actually enjoyed reading, I didn’t really think about the reality of reading a book that was all right, but full of issues for me. Overall I give Labyrinth Lost a pass, but in the interest of honest reviewing there were aspects of the book that irritated me.

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Alejandra Mortiz is a powerful bruja (a witch but not) hiding her magic from her family. Her whole family are brujas and brujos, but Alex is convinced that their magic has brought them nothing but sorrow. When she can’t hide her magic anymore, she devises a spell to get rid of it – but everything goes wrong and her entire family, past and present, are sucked into another dimension ruled by an evil being who wants to consume their souls and gain their power for herself. Alex teams up with her best friend and a brujo with a dark past to get them back, traveling through Los Lagos, a land with beings and rules unlike anything we have on Earth.

The concept of Labyrinth Lost is powerful, and the dimension of Los Lagos is incredibly devised, full of fascinating landscapes and surprises at every turn. The strong point of the book is definitely the way Zoraida Cordóva plays with conceptions of afterlife and alternate dimensions, and paints the world that Alex, Nova and Rishi journey through on their quest.

However, I had my share of problems with Labyrinth Lost as well. First off, it reminded me a lot of the Hunger Games, particularly the arena from Catching Fire. In terms of setting this probably has more to do with my mind than the book, but I couldn’t shake the association. It didn’t help that both Labyrinth Lost and the Hunger Games trilogy are written in first person, present tense. That only strengthened my connection between them, and I wonder if Labyrinth Lost would have been a stronger book in a different tense and point of view. As I said above, I felt that the strongest part of the book was the world, and I loved the descriptions that we got. However, first person isn’t the greatest point of view for descriptive prose, as most humans don’t go into long descriptive paragraphs. The book reflected this and had some weak sentences that felt more like a sketch of the scene than a finished painting. For example, when describing a tunnel, Cordóva writes, “It smells dank and is lit by torches.” Sorry, but, well…duh.

The present tense also irritated me. When writing in present it’s a little too easy to rely on the filler words, especially ‘is.’ And Cordóva does this a lot. This is the very essence of a little thing, but hey, I’m a writer. I obsess over the little things.

Some reviewers have commented on weakness of character, and I can see their points. I think Alex is fairly strong, and Cordóva does a good job of avoiding the ‘invisible girl’ style that would essentially turn Alex into a thin sheet onto which we could just project ourselves. (Side note: she does fulfill the ‘reluctant savior’ trope in a way, with all her moaning about how she has all this cool magic and how terrible is that? There’s an explanation for why she hates it so, but I never really bought it. Maybe because every living human on earth would think her powers are the COOLEST FRICKING THING to have.)Alex has definite flaws, and both she and Nova are strong characters. Rishi is a bit weaker, unfortunately. She rings some of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ bells, and another reviewer pointed out (quite rightly, I think) that she didn’t bring a lot to Alex’s quest, except for some romantic tension as she and Nova compete for Alex’s affections. I won’t say more in the interest of spoilers, but I did appreciate how the love story turned out.

At the end of the day, I would say Labyrinth Lost is worth the read. Yeah, I grumbled as I read it, but it’s a refreshing mash-up of portal fantasy and gave us a beautiful world to roam.

This book is for you if: you want a new setting, you like creepy imagery.
Maybe less so if: You sweat the little things, you’re sick of first person, present tense.

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