Posts Tagged ‘Genre-Fans-Only’

Labyrinth Lost

“I wonder what it’s like in other households during breakfast. Do their condiment shelves share space with jars of consecrated cemetery dirt and blue chicken feet? Do their mothers pray to ancient gods before they leave for work every morning? Do they keep the index finger bones of their ancestors in red velvet pouches to ward off thieves?”

Premise :

Alejandra is a Latin-American witch, also known as a bruja; but she hates and fears her powers. When she determines to reject her powers and heritage, her attempt backfires in a big way, and she must journey to the underworld, Los Lagos, to redeem herself. Will be published Sept. 6th, 2016.

What I Liked :

(1) Labyrinth Lost begins well, setting the scene in a house full of Brooklyn “brujas,” with creepy descriptions of what it means to be a Latin-American witch. The unique, Latin-flavored details are the main reason I wanted to read Labyrinth Lost in the first place. (2) Zoraida Cordova’s lyrical, original prose covers more than just the Latin-American world of the brujas: it also portrays Alex’s personal life, before the plot starts rolling. Alex struggles with a realistically painful and frightening magical “coming of age,” but she also enjoys a fun relationship with her siblings—equal parts love and snark. When they joke about reincarnation:

“What did I do in my last life to deserve you two?” “You were a pirate queen who stole a treasure from Cortes and then ended up deserting your crew to man-hungry sharks.”

So despite a few clunky plot points, early on, and the brat of a narrator (Alex is overly aggressive with everyone except Rishi, her bisexual love interest, with whom she softens almost to the point of sentimental silliness), I flew through the first half and noted, with rising hope, the unique descriptions of the secondary world that Alex enters through a portal.

“It startles me when I look at both ends of the horizon. The moon and the sun are out at the same time. On one end, the sun is a white circle hidden behind the overcast sky. On the other side of the horizon is a sideways, slender crescent moon, the points facing up. Something swells inside of me, a faded memory of bedtime stories about them reaching across the sky to join together—La Mama and El Papa.”

Disappointments :

(1) Unfortunately, it becomes clear around the 50% mark that Rishi was only included in this story for her sexual orientation; she has no plot purpose. [Highlight to view spoiler: She and Alex feel like good friends, but the bisexual relationship feels completely forced, as if the author only included it to make the book sell.] Not only does Rishi have no meaningful character arc, I can’t think of one thing she does to influence the plot. Ultimately, many readers looking for a good LGBT fantasy were disappointed (if Goodreads is any indication).

(2) The worldbuilding does not continue to deepen. Although the book’s Latin-American pantheon is full of uniquely named gods and goddesses, the deities end up blending together without much distinction or mythology. None is particularly fleshed out. Occasionally, a character shares a great story about one of the gods, but only very occasionally.

(3) Alex and Rishi are irritatingly ambivalent about Los Lagos and its gods, throughout most of the story. Rishi, in particular, acts like they’re traveling through Candyland, not Hell. She’s constantly like, “OH SHINY THINGS EVERYWHERE LET ME TOUCH THEM!” And Alex and Nova are like “STOP TOUCHING THAT YOU DARLING STUPID MAGPIE!” Literally, Alex constantly calls Rishi things like “my little magpie.” It makes the book feel more MG than YA. Behavior like this also deescalated the tension, for me, because if they’re not wary, why should I be?

Nova is the only character with any sense or passion about his religion. Here he defends his beliefs to the teen girls:

“Nova sounds frustrated as he says, ‘I can’t explain belief. I just have it. I know the power in me comes from somewhere. I know that the magic in my veins is real. No, I can’t tell you that if I speak to the Deos, they answer back with words, but there are other ways. When was the last time Zeus came down from Olympus and hung out just to prove his existence?”

(4) The magic system retains similar problems to the pantheon. While it is beautifully developed in language and atmosphere, it’s totally underdeveloped as a tool. Alex draws on physical energy to use her magic and no one ever defines her magical boundaries. So basically…Alex can do anything; that knowledge sucks the tension from the action sequences and the climax.

Overall :

Labyrinth Lost is unique among YA Fantasy, although its worldbuilding won’t satisfy longtime readers of Fantasy. It sidesteps some of its own questions (such as, “If at least some of the Latin religious myths are true, what about Rishi’s Guyanese religion?”); the tension is destroyed by a cardboard villain and unlimited deus ex machina magic; and the contrived bisexual relationship seems to have been included only as a selling point.

Still, the merits of the book stand. The unique Latin-American feel of this novel earns it 1.5 stars. I also generally liked the sentence-level craft of the book, which earns it a half star. And the twist at the 80ish% mark gives it another half star.

If the premise gives you a burning desire to read the book, as it did me, you may find something to like, here.

2.5/5 STARS

My thanks to Zoraida Cordova, Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for my review copy of Labyrinth Lost.

Premise :

Ramagar, the self-styled Thief of Kalimar, and his partner Mariana, accompany a mysterious stranger on a quest to free the land of Speca from its dread conquerors.

About :

This is an older book, originally published in 1979; but Endeavor Press is republishing it, along with several other books by the author, Graham Diamond, whose book The Haven apparently has a cult following.

I confess to some confusion about why Endeavor republished this one. I think a lot of men must have read and enjoyed it as youngsters (which I gather by reading the Amazon reviews, not through Goodreads where the current overall rating is a rather low 3.22), so perhaps Endeavor expects these nostalgic readers to buy copies for old times’ sake. Fortunately or unfortunately, stories and storytelling have changed a lot since 1979, and this book had little staying power, at least to my tastes.

I enjoyed the first half of this book quite a bit more than the latter half, even though none of it is really “my style” (by which I mean, “has a fast-moving, but character-driven plot and atmospheric prose”). In the beginning, the middle-eastern feel attracted me, and I found myself subconsciously nabbing books about Sindbad and Aladdin from library shelves.

But when the story leaves Kalimar for the north, all the charm stays behind. Soon after that point (perhaps some 15% later), the cardboard characters and the predictable plot got the better of my patience and I gave up reading this one.

DNF at 61%. Why?

The Characters :

They have no personal ambitions; or, when they do have personal ambitions, the plot quickly overpowers them. They also have no consistent personalities—they all hang their heads, sneer coldly, nod gravely and purse their lips in grim smiles. Needless to say, I couldn’t, could not connect with them.

I’m also not sure why this book is titled “The Thief of Kalimar,” since it’s really more about “The Prince of Speca.” (Except, of course, because the former title sounds way more epic and eastern. But the plot revolves around the prince’s agenda, not the thief’s, so the title doesn’t makes sense to me.) Perhaps the final 39% would have enlightened me, but even that (not so) compelling question won’t convince me to finish this one.

The Plot :

It was fun, at first. The heroes mentally and physically overcome a few entertaining obstacles, such as swimming through waist-high sewage; they also outwit a few clever antagonists, such as a terrifying and warlike race of baboons and a bevy of soldiers who, thankfully, do not have the benefit of fingerprint criminal databases.

But after about 50%, I lost interest. The “planning” sessions always go like this: someone suggests a “crazy!” plan; everyone pelts him with baboon poop; the man with the plan points out x, y & z, which clearly make the plan necessary; everyone else grudgingly agrees. I mean, if it were a bit…cleverer…I might still enjoy these scenes. But it was too formulaic to keep me interested.

Other Complaints Because I Spent Hours Reading This Thing :

(1) The new cover does not fit at all. (2) I would have like a map. (Maybe the finished version has one?) (3) Feminists, you will hate this book. Don’t even try it. (4) “Over the low wall jumped Ramagar, thief of thieves.” This is an actual sentence from the book. And I respond, “At the book laughed Christy, reviewer of doom!”

Overall :

The first half has some nice moments and adventures, but everything goes downhill in the second. I can’t imagine that anyone who has read much fantasy would find this book very interesting. Although…it’s actually not at all inappropriate for children and teens. It might be a bit long for the MG crowd, but if those Amazon reviewers are any indication, boy readers might eat this book up.

Read at your own risk.

1.5/5 STARS


The gods were always jealous of the angels, or so we are taught. The gods have always been cruel, always tricksters.

Remember the story of Icarus? Children of Icarus turns the story on its head. In this book, the angel Icarus is a victim of the gods; he survives his nearly-fatal fall when the sun melts his wings.

But the great architect Daedala does still construct the famous labyrinth over the tomb where Icarus regenerates through the centuries.

Or so we are taught.

There is a labyrinth, but no one knows how to get through it. Here’s where our narrator comes in:

There is, somewhere, an end to the labyrinth. Every year, those young and innocent like Icarus are sent to find this end. If they accomplish this task they are rewarded with entry into Alyssia, land of the angels, where they themselves will become angels and one day welcome Icarus home.

Or so they are taught.

YA Fantasy published August 1st, 2016 by Capstone Switch Press.

About This Book :

This book defies easy description. An unnamed girl accompanies her best friend, Clara, a promising young angel-to-be, into the labyrinth. As she meets danger after danger, the unnamed girl copes with her new life in an aggressively passive manner, until [highlight to view spoiler: her mentor arrives in the form of a mysterious legend known only as “The Executioner,” three-quarters of the way through the book].

So, yes, the premise is weird.

But I was excited to read it because the publisher, Switch Press, published one of my latest YA faves in 2015, Railhead by Philip Reeve. While Reeve is a very experienced writer, Caighlin Smith, author of Children of Icarus, is a young writer in her early twenties; still, she shows a lot of promise, in Children of Icarus.

What I Liked :

The strong prologue; the quick start that moves into adventure mode with only a brief, tense setup; the lovely characterization of Clara, in the beginning; the differentiation of the secondary characters; and the sensory-driven prose, brushed with moments of horror. These elements kept me entertained until nearly halfway through the story.


Things slowed down a lot at about the 1/4 mark. Although the author dives deeply into the psyche of her narrator, the unnamed girl lives in a constant state of victimhood and inactivity. Because of this, the middle of the book sags into angsty passivity and the plot flounders. In fact, I’m still not really sure what the plot was supposed to be. If the goal was to find the end of the labyrinth, [highlight to view spoiler: then the narrator didn’t succeed or fail because the book ends before we find out]. The book skips around a few important steps of the hero’s journey; it wasn’t a rebellion; it wasn’t an escape; and it wasn’t an epic Greek tragedy. The ending left all my plot and worldbuilding questions unanswered.

That’s my other main complaint: the prologue promises some fun worldbuilding and mythology, but after the first few chapters, all that promise tapers off without much explanation. The worldbuilding stays at a very close range, from the first person, present tense narration, and the answers to most of my questions have been postponed to book II.

On the plus side, this book is not a romance, the final 1/4 picks up with some great action sequences and “hero’s journey training” moments, and I enjoyed the labyrinthine monsters throughout the book.


Children of Icarus will please young genre fans, but if you’re looking for consistent adventure and in-depth worldbuilding, look elsewhere—perhaps to Smith’s next offering.

***3/5 STARS

Thank you to Caighlan Smith, Capstone Switch Press and Netgalley for my e-copy of Children of Icarus!