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Wayward Witch by Zoraida Córdova

IMPORTANT: Please note that this review contains spoilers for books one and two in the series, Labyrinth Lost and Bruja Born.

One of the first things I tweeted about this book, just a few pages in, is that it has “big third book energy.” The first two books in this series are Big. I don’t mean page length, I mean concept – they’re full on, save-the-world, high-stakes, major consequences stories. They’re huge. Alex, the first Mortiz sister, has a once-in-a-generation magical gift that has the capability to do huge damage to herself, her family, and the entire world. At the end of her book, the family’s world is rocked by the return of their missing father as a result of Alex’s actions. Lula, the second sister, literally sets off the zombie apocalypse. Straight up, hordes of zombies shambling through New York. At the end of her book, the zombies are gone but the damage isn’t; people are dead – and staying dead – and the family’s beloved home is gone, forcing them to relocate from Brooklyn to Queens, which is a huge deal.

So where do you go from here? What’s it like to be the younger sister of two people whose stories are larger than life? It’s a tricky narrative challenge that Córdova openly embraces; Rose wonders, early on, what’s wrong with her that she is still ‘stuck’ in disaster mode when her sisters have managed to move on and make new lives for themselves, even in the detritus of the world they once knew. Rose’s magical gifts are nothing like Alex and Lula’s; they’re a quieter form of danger, and her own understanding of herself and her magical talent has also been upended by Alex and Lula’s Big Stories. 

So how do you come up with another big story for the third sister without falling into the trap of obnoxious Chosen One narratives or putting the poor denizens of NYC through yet another apocalypse? In this case, you pull the bruja out of Brooklyn – and out of the mundane world entirely. Wrapping up several loose ends, Rose and her previously-missing father are transported to the realm where he was once held prisoner, the land of Adas. It’s a magically shielded island in the Caribbean sea, populated by mythological creatures and a great deal of magic – and it’s dying. It’s on Rose to unravel the complicated history of both Adas and her own family, and find out how to save both worlds. 

Apart from the expertly crafted sequel energy, there are lots of other things to love in this book. Rose is the youngest Mortiz sister; she’s in her early teens. Unlike the other two books, this one doesn’t end with a romance. There’s hints of it, and Rose is drawn equally to multiple characters (capturing my own confused teenage bisexual heart perfectly, LOL), but in the end, this isn’t a romance. It’s a story about Rose herself. It’s easy to imagine where things might go for her in a few years, but she’s definitely not in a relationship with anybody at the end. 

There’s also a nonbinary character, handled extremely well (and who I would LOVE to see get their own book, I’m just saying). There’s glimpses into the world of Rose’s sisters, into her parents’ now-complicated relationship, into history and politics and myths and legends. There’s found family. There’s horses! With wings! Come on. There’s love and sacrifice and unexpected twists, all set in a fantasy that feels deeply grounded in reality. The best thing that Córdova does, with this entire series, is have real consequences. The second book (Bruja Born) is probably a master class in consequences and upending expectations, but all three books make it clear that even in a world filled with magic, actions have real results and sometimes, not nice ones. It’s satisfying in a way that a lot of purely escapist fantasies aren’t, even while it hits harder than you might expect.

And speaking of consequences: the only – literally the only! – loose end this book leaves is Nova. I desperately want to see the end of Nova’s story, and I hope Córdova plans on writing it, because I don’t want to leave this world behind.