Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera (9780062947550)
Cece lives in Tierra del Sol, a town at the edge of the desert where criatura, powerful legendary beings, roam. Devoted to the Sun, the town stands against the influx of these beings. Cece though is unique in her town. She has a water spirit, given to her when she was young, that is considered a curse by the rest of the residents, including her own family. When her older sister is stolen away by a criatura to become his bride, Cece blames herself for bringing her sister into the desert. Now Cece must figure out how to rescue her sister. She decides that the only way is to become a bruja herself and control the soul of a criatura. The first criatura she meets is the legendary Coyote, who agrees to join her in her quest. As Cece joins the brutal contests of the bruja, she must find her own way, a way that may just change the relationships between criatura, bruja and humans.
Rivera’s novel is entirely immersive and engaging. She invites readers into the world of Mexican folklore, highlighting several legendary figures both kind and cruel. Still, the world she creates is also entirely her own with the small community of humans standing in the way of the powerful criatura and the disdain that those people have for Cece and what she becomes. The world of criatura, bruja and humans is a delicate balance where power if vied for and battles are commonplace. Just knowing who to trust is difficult and may lead to ruin.
The characters placed in this world are beautifully written. From Cece herself, who is courageous, caring and unwilling to lose herself in order to gain power. To Coyote, who is funny, wild and true. The soft spot that Coyote has for humans is one that will be shared by readers towards him. His character is complex and so much a heart of this book.
A great middle-grade fantasy full of magic, legend and individuality. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.