We’re suckers for fun, inclusive fantasy, so it’s no surprise that Labyrinth Lost made our list of favorite 2016 reads – or that Zoraida Cordova is as awesome as her books.
In Labyrinth Lost, the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, 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.
Labyrinth Lost is available now.
Tell us a little about Alex!
Alex is a complicated girl. Alex grew up with a single mother, three sisters, and a huge extended family. Because her mom has to work extra hard just to make ends meet, Alex picks up the slack for her sisters. She worries about the past and what the future will bring if she follows the life of a bruja. She’s grown up hiding this secret from her family until one day it just needs to get out. She loves her family, but she still makes a selfish decision that risks all their lives. But she’s also loyal, and pushes herself to the limit.
Labyrinth Lost tackles brujas and Latin American culture in a very fantastical way. How much of your book is based on real mythology? How much did you throw in? Were you able to pull from your own family heritage? How much research was involved? (How many questions can I ask at one time?)
The gods of Labyrinth Lost are all made up. The Deathday ceremony is also made up, but I did pull from the Day of the Dead and Santeria. The Day is the Dead is a Mexican tradition that celebrates death and family. I really wanted to explore those themes. Santeria has rituals that involve shells, singing, and sometimes small sacrifices. I tried to be as respectful as I could.
The only thing I’d say that I take from my family is Alex’s birthday party. There’s so much food and dancing and all your relatives there at once. Family is important, and the biggest thread in Latin American cultures. Each country has different superstitions and legends.
There is one monster in particular that is inspired by my childhood in Ecuador. When youre a kid, everyone scares you with monsters. Duendes are evil elves that can steal you away. The Duendes in Labyrinth Lost are a little different, and hopefully I’ll get to bring them back in another book. But the one that’s stuck with me for a long time is the Cuco. In Mexico, there’s the Cucuy, which is a demon. For us (Ecuadorians), we scare kids with the “Cuco.” It’s a demon that eats children who behave badly. I always pictured a black beast with sharp teeth and claws. So, naturally, I turned it into the Maloscuros in Labyrinth Lost.
Los Lagos is entirely made up. The Meadow is more inspired by Alice in Wonderland than any other culture. One of my favorite parts of writing this book was writing the cantos and epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter. Writing creation myths is something I love, and the story of La Mama and El Papa (the major gods) was a lot of fun.
One of the most important aspects of the story is Alex’s relationship to her family – both her sisters, her mother, and her extended family, as well as the complicated feelings between all of them that unfolds. How important was it to you to include a strong familial relationship? How did you work at crafting one that felt realistic and not contrived or stereotypical?
I very much believe that Latinxs are not a monolith. But, we do have one very strong current and that’s food and family. My cousins are basically my brothers and sisters. My aunts and uncles are just as important as my mother and stepfather to me. I wanted this to be part of the brujx community of my world. Plus, I wanted to create a matriarchy of witches because in my house my grandmother is the boss.
Based on the blurb, readers might not realize that the book involves a slowly blossoming queer relationship between the main character and her best friend. Was it an intentional decision not to angle it that way? What sort of thought goes into whether or not to reveal that publicly?
Honestly, it wasn’t something that we discussed. We wrote the summary to reflect heavily on family and the overarching plot, and on the repercussions of Alex’s actions. On one hand, I believe that people should be able to read a queer relationship as any other romantic subplot. In my life, queer relationships are part of the norm, as they should be. I wanted to give that to Alex as well. I also feel like I don’t want to take focus from LGBT+ authors who are already writing these stories. It feels like saying, “Look at me! I have a bi love triangle!” I also don’t want it to seem like I’m hiding something, because that’s not the intention either. For the most part, I’ve had great reception to Alex and Rishi. It’s not a secret, and from the very beginning of writing Alex and Rishi together, I knew how Alex felt about her. Rishi is an extension of Alex’s family. As Lin-Manuel Miranda says, “love is love is love is love.”
Is there a sort of pressure when bringing in your own culture to get it right, even though you know you can’t tell everybody’s story? What about when intersectional representation comes into play?
This is a tough question. I want to stress that I am writing fantasy, and most of what I’ve created is entirely made up. I’m really glad that it feel real and familiar. When it comes to writing Latinx characters, I want to represent everything. In The Vicious Deep, the love interest is half Ecuadorian and half Greek. I didn’t think much of it until people stated telling me how brave that was. I always (try to) fit someone Ecuadorian into a book because I never say myself in books before. If not me, then who? You know?
Alex and her family have a long history. She has strong immigrant roots from both of her parents, and I wanted that to be rooted in the magic. Their magic has traveled continents and generations later, this family of brujas holds strongly to their traditions.
In media there is one kind of Latinx. They look Italian or white. Colorism is a huge problem in the Latin American community. Alex, like me, has a large mixed family. Her family comes from the Caribbean, Ecuador, and Mexico. When writing about Latinx, you have to include everyone. Alex looks so much different than her sisters. That happens in families. I hope to explore these themes a lot more in books 2 and 3.
What else do you want people to know about Labyrinth Lost?
I’ve wanted to write this book for a long time, and now it’s here for you to read. It’s gone through some serious edits, but at the heart of the story is Alex, and her journey to understand her place in the world.