Today it is my turn to turn the spotlight on Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova. It is the second book in the Bruja Born series which started off with the fast-paced and volatile Labyrinth Lost. It’s a powerful premise with plenty of potential.
About the Author
Zoraida Córdova is the award-winning author of The Vicious Deep trilogy and the Brooklyn Brujas series. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, and Toil & Trouble: 16 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. She is a New Yorker at heart and is currently working on her next novel.
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About the book
Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.
Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.
Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…
This is the second in the Brooklyn Brujas series, which deals with the fallout of the dark volatile and life-changing events of Labyrinth Lost (the first book in the series). Lula spends the majority of the time trying to control a bellyful of anger and taking her lack of control out on her loved ones. She resents her sister for putting her in danger and for destroying her physical appearance.
When you’re equipped with more power than you can handle the danger is not being able to control it or possibly using it for the wrong reasons. As a witch one of the golden rules is what you put out into the universe you get back tenfold, especially when it is something negative. I think trying to intervene in life or death scenarios fits into this category. Lula doesn’t hesitate to use her power to take back what Death has already claimed, which sets a series of dangerous events in motion.
Córdova likes to explore the emotional and physical limitations and boundaries of magic. What happens when you break the written and unwritten rules? Does Lula really feel as if she is above the rules and immune from the possible consequences of breaking them. There is also a focus on the tight relationship between the sisters, and why they are willing to risk their lives to satisfy the selfish needs of their sister.
The Brooklyn Brujas has a lot of potential, especially when it comes to the sisters developing their skills and powers, so it will be interesting to see where the author takes the series. Brujas aren’t a common feature in urban fantasy, there tends to be an overall focus on bog-standard witches. This allows for a more in-depth look at the cultural meaning and myths surrounding them.
What I really want to know is whether something else other than fate or the auto-schedule of Death happened on that bus. Was it just a coincidence that Lula was in the middle of an emotional upheaval? Just putting that out there into the universe.
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Excerpt of Bruja Born
They say El Corazón has two hearts:the black thing in his chestand the one he wears on his sleeve.
—Tales of the Deos, Felipe Thomás San Justinio
This is a love story.
At least, it was, before my sister sent me to hell. Though technically, Los Lagos isn’t hell or the underworld. It’s another realm inhabited by creatures, spirits, and wonders I’d only read about in my family’s Book of Cantos. The place where I was kept—where my whole family was imprisoned by a power-hungry witch—that was as close to hell as I hope I’ll ever get.
But that’s another story.
“Lula, you ready?” my sister Alex asks.
I stare at my open closet and can’t find the socks that go with my step team uniform. I riffle through bins of underwear and mismatched socks and costume jewelry.
“Lula?” Alex repeats, softly this time.
For the past seven or so months, Alex has been extra everything—extra patient, extra loving, extra willing to do my chores. She means well, but she doesn’t understand how suffocating her attention is, how the quiet in her eyes drives a sick feeling in my gut because I’m trying to be okay for her, for our family and friends. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at faking it. But sometimes, like now, I snap.
“Give me a minute!”
I don’t mean to snap. Honestly. But everything that’s come out of my mouth lately has been hard and angry, and I don’t know how to make it stop. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I was before—
Rose, our younger sister, walks into my room wearing long sleeves and jeans even though there’s a heat wave and it’s mid-June. Rose has the Gift of the Veil. She can see and speak to the dead. Spirt magic runs on a different wavelength than the rest of our powers, and being so tuned-in to that realm means she’s always cold. Rose takes a seat on my bed and picks at a tear in the blanket.
“Can I go to the pregame with you and Maks?” she asks me. “I’ve never been to one before.”
“No,” I say.
“Why not?” When she frowns, her round face gets flushed. Sometimes I forget that underneath all her power, she’s just a fourteen-year-old kid trying to fit in.
“Because,” I say, digging through my dirty laundry. “It’s just for the team. You can drive to the game with Ma and Alex.”
“And Dad.” Rose’s voice is a quiet addendum.
Right. Dad. After seven years of being missing and presumed dead, he’s in our lives again. It’s an odd feeling having him back, one we all share but haven’t talked about. He has no memory of where he’s been, and even if we can’t say it out loud, maybe we’ve moved on without him. Alex was always the one who said he was gone for good, and perhaps deep down inside, I thought that too. But I always corrected her. I was the one who believed he’d return, because sometimes false hope is better than being completely hopeless. I believed in lots of things once.
“And Dad,” I say.
The three of us exchange a look of unease. There are too many things that are unsaid between us. I wish we could go back to being loud and rowdy and something like happy. But it’s taking longer than I thought.
So here are the things we leave unsaid:
One, we’re brujas. Witches. Magical BAMFs with powers gifted by the Deos, our gods. A house full of magic is bound to cause some friction, and after what Alex did, there is plenty of friction.
Two, my sister Alex cast a canto that banished our entire family to a realm called Los Lagos. She got to traipse across its magical hills and meadows with Nova, the hot brujo we never talk about, and her now-girlfriend, Rishi.
Meanwhile, I was trapped in a freaking tree. A big, evil tree. I was surrounded by all-consuming darkness, and even though we’re home and safe, I still feel that pull, like something is sucking at my soul and my light, and this house is too small and crowded, and I don’t know how to make this fear stop. I don’t know how to get over it.
Three, I can’t stand looking at my own reflection anymore.
I took all the mirrors in my bedroom down, even the one that was on my altar to keep away malicious spirits. They don’t need it. One look at my face, and they’ll be scared off.
“Ready when you are,” Alex says again, her guilt radioactive.
Technically, technically, the attack that left my face hideously disfigured with scars was Alex’s fault. I’m a terrible sister for thinking it. Forgive and forget and all that. But the maloscuros that came looking for her attacked me. Their vicious claws raked across my face. Sometimes, when I’m alone, I can smell the rot of their skin, see the glow of their yellow eyes, feel their presence even though they’re long gone and banished.
To be fair, Alex has scars from the maloscuros too. Right across her heart. But she can cover them up. I can’t.
Not naturally, anyway.
Having a sister who is an all-powerful encantrix has its benefits. There are a million problems going on in the world, and here I am, worrying about scars. But deep down, I know it’s more than the scars. I’ve been called beautiful my whole life. I’ve been aware of the way men’s eyes trailed my legs since I was far too young. The way boys in school stuttered when they spoke to me. The way they offered me gifts—bodega-bought candies and stolen flowers and handwritten notes with yes/no scribbled in pencil. My aunt Maria Azul told me beauty was power. My mother told me beauty was a gift. If they’re right, then what am I now? All I know is I left fragments of myself in Los Lagos and I don’t know how to get them back.
So I turn to my sister, because she owes me one. But before we can get started, my mother knocks on my open door, Dad trailing behind her like a wraith.
“Good, you’re all together. Can I borrow you guys for a minute?” Ma asks. She rests a white laundry basket against one hip and waves a sage bundle like a white flag. “I want to try the memory canto on your father before we leave. The sun’s in the right—”
“We’re busy,” I say, too angry again. I don’t like talking to my mother like this. Hell, any other time I’d catch hands for speaking to her like that. But we’re all a mess—guilt, anger, love, plus a lot of magic is a potent mix. Something’s got to give, and I don’t know if I want to be here when it does.
Mom throws the sage stick on top of the clean laundry, scratches her head with a long, red nail. Her black-lined eyes look skyward, as if begging the Deos for patience. She makes to speak, but Dad places his hand on her arm. She tenses at his touch, and he withdraws the hand.
“We all have to pull our weight around here,” Ma tells me, a challenge in her deep, coffee-brown eyes that I don’t dare look away from.
“Dad doesn’t,” I say, and feel Rose and Alex retreat two paces away from me. Traitors.
“He’s trying. You haven’t healed so much as a paper cut since—”
I widen my eyes, waiting for the her to say it. Since Los Lagos. Since the attack. But she can’t.
“You have Alex,” I say, turning my thumb toward my sister. “She’s an encantrix. Healing comes with the package.”
“Lula…” Ma pinches the bridge of her nose, then trails off as my father tries to be the voice of reason.
“Carmen,” he whispers, “let them be. It’s okay.”
But my mother doesn’t fully let up. “How much longer will you keep having your sister glamour you?”
Alex looks at her toes. All that power in her veins and she can’t escape being shamed by our mother. I might be just a healer, but I match my mom’s gaze. We share more than our light-brown skin and wild, black curls. We share the same fire in our hearts.
“Until it stops hurting,” I say, and I don’t let my voice waver.
We share a sadness too. I see it in her, woven into the wrinkles around her eyes. So she just hands me a black bundle—my uniform socks—and says, “We’ll see you at the game.”