3.5/5 stars. I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I wasn't at all sure what to expect - it seemed like it was trying really hard to do a lot of things. Cultural diversity, magic, a new underworld, bisexuality...it's a lot to blend into one story. Zoraida Cordova actually manages to do it quite well!
Alex is a bruja who doesn't want the exceptional power she's been granted. In the beginning she struck me as a whiny, ungrateful little brat. I can understand her resentment and not being entirely free to choose her own path, but her attempt at rejecting her power puts her entire family in danger - albeit unintentionally.
However, she immediately sets off to rescue them and is willing to do whatever it takes, no matter the cost. So, props to her for that. She loves her family with an intensity beyond anything else, even if they don't always see eye to eye or get along. She's incredibly stubborn, to the point of insisting that complete strangers help her on her quest.
It got bogged down a little over 1/3 of the way through. When the setting shifted to Los Lagos (the underworld, essentially), it floundered somewhat. Especially with the arrival of certain characters - like, really? Rishi? Where did that come from? How did she get her fake wings? How did she know to bring them, if she brought them with her? I feel like Madre didn't give them to her. I'm still vaguely suspicious of the way her arrival was "explained." I honestly thought she was one of the bird-women for awhile. Guess the fake wings should have ruled that out but it was just so abrupt and essentially unexplained. Rishi's quick, unquestioning acceptance of Alex's magic and all it entails really bothered me too. No muggle (sorry) is going to just unblinkingly accept an entirely new world and the ability to conjure fire, no matter how much in love with the bruja you are.
However, after several chapters where I struggled, it picked back up and carried on and was much clearer. I think maybe a little more description would have benefited the story.
"It's love, Alex. Love is you jumping through a portal despite your own safety. Love is mom singing in the car and Rose making tea when we're sick and even us fighting because we're blood, and no matter what you do, I'll never forget that you are my sister."
Family comes first - that's the mantra I kept seeing over and over again. I'm a little envious of Alex's relationship with her sisters, to be honest. I'm not very familiar with Hispanic culture and was really intrigued by how it's portrayed here. Of course I can't vouch for accuracy, but given the author's background I would think it would be pretty spot-on. Alex's family is not distinctly one country or another. She is a vibrant mix of many countries and people and Cordova really wove that into her and her magic. Oh! The magic. Magic in this world has a price that must always be paid, by someone, somewhere. It isn't free or easy. It marks you. Alex and her family do not have a rosy-glass view of magic - as perhaps illustrated by the Deathly celebration for marking when a bruja or burro comes into their powers.
Also I love that bisexuality is given a normal viewpoint. Which is a really rough way of saying...well, it wasn't anything special. And I don't mean that in a bad way! I just mean that it was treated as completely normal, nothing to be shocked or surprised by. Normal. Healthy. Accepted. Supported. Books with characters like this are sorely needed in literature, when so much of the world is so full of hate for anything different from them.
Overall I really enjoyed this book and look forward to seeing what happens in the next one! The ending was a definite cliffhanger, though not with as much shock value as I feel like was intended. Still, I was definitely a little put out that there wasn't a next chapter! Haha.
Many thanks to Netgalley for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.