Review: Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls

Since before I could remember, Mamá had taught me the legends of the criaturas. They were creatures unlike humans, children of the Desert goddess, who the Great Namer created from dust and words. Mama taught me the difference between animal criaturas, who were made to fill the desert, and dark criaturas, who were made to attack the descendants of the Sun god—us. But her advice for dealing with both types was the same.

That’s a delightful book. It’s a quick read (middle grade) with lovely worldbuilding (albeit a bit of whiplash reading it back to back with Black Sun. It’s got a touch of southwest US / Mexican mythology with Coyote myths, El Sombrerón//La Chupacabra/La Llorona and others, brujas, and touch of Pokemon/creature collection with whole loads of hearts and the power of one little girl trying to save her sister and instead–perhaps–accidentally changing the world along the way. It’s a great read and something that I’m definitely going to put onto the list to read to my children.

A few thoughts:

I glanced at his neck. In the shadows of his figure, the silver line of a necklace peeked out from beneath his collar.

His soul.

No matter how powerful a criatura may be, each wore its soul around its neck. And all a human had to do was steal it to become their bruja or brujo—their witch master.

It’s a bit Pokemon, but it’s a neat idea. The monsters in the dark–you can fight them with fire or by becoming their masters.

That meant if I became an official bruja by winning the Bruja Fights, I wouldn’t even have to sneak into Devil’s Alley. I’d be welcomed in. Where Juana was waiting. This is what I had to do. It was the perfect plan. Okay, maybe “perfect” was the wrong word. Everyone in town already hated me, and things would be a thousand times worse if they discovered that I was trying to become a bruja.

Forget perfect, it’s barely a plan! She’s so young.

“Catrina really should have come back to teach you more about bruja life.” She straightened up, and I tucked the necklace back into my shirt. “There are many secrets to criatura souls. The most important one is knowing how close to the forever-last death a criatura is.”

My eyebrows pulled together. “Forever-last death? But criaturas are always reborn—”

She waved her hand and headed up the steps. “Criaturas may be reborn from their soul stone, but with each life they come back weaker. If killed nine times, a soul stone grows so weak that it turns to sand. It is called the forever-last death.”

A nice bit of raising of the stakes. I think this is a creation of the particular book, but it’s a cool one!

Coyote’s fingers tightened into fists. He dropped them into his lap. “Do you know why the four gods had to sacrifice themselves to create the physical sun, moon, land, and ocean we know today, Cece?”

Kind of a weird way to answer my question, but okay. “Because life couldn’t begin until the world began, and the world couldn’t begin until all the gods sacrificed themselves to bring it about.”

That’s such a wonderfully Coyote answer. :D