Lobizona, Romina Garber’s Spanglish love letter to Harry Potter, was one of my biggest (pleasant) surprises of the year. I likely would have never read it if not for Fantasy Bingo, and I liked it well enough to rate it ahead of two-thirds of the Lodestar Award finalists. Needless to say, I was very excited to get to Cazadora.
[It is impossible to review Cazadora without referencing a few basic facts (e.g. characters that are still alive) from Lobizona, but I will be avoiding major spoilers]
Unlike Lobizona, which spotlighted the discovery of a hidden world and spent the vast majority of the narrative at a secret magic school in the Everglades, Cazadora opens with Manu and her compatriots on the run, and Manu’s fight for survival (or better–but less likely–acceptance) as a human hybrid provides the dominant driving force behind the plot. But orbiting her are a series of other characters who don’t fit with the magical society as currently constructed, and their fight for change serves as both backdrop and buttress to Manu’s struggle.
If I had to single out two reasons to read Lobizona, they would be the joy of discovering a hidden world and the excellent emotional beats masterfully intertwining fictional and real-world injustice. Of course, Cazadora gave Garber plenty of opportunity to build on the latter, but carrying forward the magic of discovery for a second book proved more difficult, and the first half of the sequel felt like a revolving door of forgettable magical backdrops. Not only did they not capture the charm of the opener, they also didn’t contribute to a cohesive world, and the time spent introducing so many new locations crowded out the interpersonal conflict. The main cast frequently butted heads on how to handle their predicament, and those disagreements fueled some quality scenes as the book went on. But the first 30-40% was a bit of a mess, and despite the momentum from book one, I had to force myself to work through it.
Fortunately, Garber can still deliver some fantastic emotional moments, and the overshadowed early conflicts still set the stage for an excellent midway climax. And then the second half of the book finally stopped to breathe, with the final 30-40% split over just two locations. With less time spent introducing new locales, the plot threads introduced in the first book and change finally had the chance to take center stage. There’s no subtlety in the parallels between magical and real-world injustice, but like its predecessor, Cazadora handles heavy themes with care, introducing compelling disputes between a diverse cast of well-meaning characters struggling to seize on the best way to fight and the best time to flee. And once those decisions are made, Garber writes the payoff in a way that always delivers the emotional goods, resulting in a book that makes an excellent final impression—even though several threads lie unresolved.
Between the unfocused opening and doubling down on a couple of my minor complaints from the first book—there’s no shortage of overpowered teenagers or new magical items/abilities that always arise exactly when needed, no foreshadowing required—Cazadora wasn’t able to recapture all the things that made Lobizona great. But after a frustrating start, it pulled together for a hard-hitting finish that did justice to the themes while delivering some excellent emotional beats. If you enjoy young adult fantasy, this is still very much worth a read.
Recommended if you like: YA fantasy that tackles injustice and hits hard emotionally.
Can I use it for Bingo? This one is clutch for hard mode, hitting Latin Author, First-Person POV, and Found Family. It’s also a 2021 Release and has a Revenge-Seeking Character.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.