Bruja Born is the second book in the urban fantasy series Brooklyn Brujas, and one of the best YA fantasy novels I’ve read this year.
I almost didn’t read this. The first book, Labyrinth Lost, followed middle sister Alex. I read it when I was Alex’s age, and I still found both the narration and the writing to be very juvenile, the plot predictable.
I didn’t have any of these problems with Bruja Born, and I think this book is worth reading even if you were disappointed by Labyrinth Lost. This novel follows older sister Lula, who is struggling to cope with the return of her dad and the way Los Lagos affected her. When her boyfriend breaks up with her and is victim of a car accident just a few minutes later, Lula knows she will do anything to get him back. She is a healer Bruja, after all: can’t she make him return from his coma and heal their love?
Bruja Born is a very unique book. I’ve always been fascinated by the novels who choose to deal with the dark side of crushes, with the intensity of teenage love. For a genre that is so obsessed with teenagers and their romantic relationships (finding a YA book without a romance is a struggle), I rarely see this aspect in YA fiction, especially in regard to the protagonist’s crushes (the evil ex trope does not count). Also, Lula isn’t demonized for it, which is important.
This is not a love story, and I loved it for that.
Because here’s the thing about magical teenagers: they are going to be selfish and mess up, again and again, and that will become even worse when they’re in love. Most of them will probably use their power not only to unselfishly save the world. I love how in the Brooklyn Brujas series the conflict is driven by the main character’s mistakes. It feels far more real than any demon invasion or urban fantasy supervillain.
Another of my problems with Labyrinth Lost was that it didn’t go far enough. It was set in a paranormal world but it was never as creepy and atmospheric as it could have been. Bruja Born didn’t have this problem. It’s one of the creepiest books I’ve read in a while, and the scenes in which Lady de la Muerte is described gave me chills. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to look around you when you’re alone in your room because it makes silence feel unsettling. Also, real-world casimuerto-infested New York is far more atmospheric than Los Lagos was.
I feel like this series is very underrated. This book made me want to reread Labyrinth Lost to see if I’d like it more now, to understand if I reviewed it too harshly because I wasn’t in the mood for it when I read it.
The Brooklyn Brujas series reminds me of The Shadowhunter Chronicles, except there’s more diversity, less cheesy romance tropes, and more depth in far less pages. If you like The Shadowhunters Chronicles, you should try this series – the magic system (Brujeria) and the atmosphere are unique, but they have the same feel. Also, in this novel we’re introduced to a wider variety of magical creatures: vampires, shifters, hunters, zombies…
Another thing I love about this series is the focus on family. Brooklyn Brujas is a series about sisters, and their bond it’s one of the things that makes it stand out from many other urban fantasy series. Parents and extended family are also relevant to the plot.
While I liked this book far more than I expected, I can’t say it was flawless. Some of the small problems I had with the writing in book one are still here – mostly, the descriptions of Nova’s eyes, at least they aren’t “bipolar” anymore, but why would you describe someone’s eyes as “Caribbean Sea” eyes?
The other small problem I had with this is also one of the main reasons I didn’t like the first book: Rishi, Alex’s female love interest, is not in this book. Instead, we get a lot of Nova. In the first book, Alex spends a lot of time describing how attractive is Nova, and says almost nothing about Rishi – and then the endgame relationship is her and Rishi. It almost comes out of nowhere, and it has very little development, so much that in the second book Rishi isn’t there at all. What’s the point of having an f/f relationship if you’re never going to show it?
I read this for the “a book involving siblings” challenge of Marvel-A-Thon.
My rating: ★★★★¾