Disclosure: Some of the links in this Lobizona book review are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.
I received an e-book advanced reader copy from the publisher Wednesday Books. This review is entirely composed of my own thoughts and opinions. Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity to read this book before it’s release on August 4, 2020.
Summary of Lobizona
Manuela “Manu” Azul lives in constant fear as an undocumented immigrant alongside her mother in Miami, Florida. She also lives in hiding because her distinctive eyes make her standout. They are bright yellow with silver like stars inside a sun. All her life she has sought to fit in.
When she learns that her mother has been keeping secrets, it breaks their bond. Before she has a chance to repair it, she takes a journey to where she will discover a place she could belong, making friends along the way.
The main character Manu has great energy that pulls you in from the start. She’s clearly on the verge of making that life-changing discovery about her own identity. When events unfold and she’s left to fend for herself, she takes on the challenge with so much courage. Manu’s endearing nature makes her a protagonist to root for all the way.
Her magical being status parallels her experiences as an undocumented immigrant. It turns out she is something special and previously unheard of. This puts a target on her back among the Septimus, the world of witches and werewolves. Manu becomes the first ever lobizona, a female werewolf. She defies gender roles in the community she’s been kept secret from her whole life.
Gender in Lobizona
The study of gender dynamics within the Septimus society makes one of the most compelling aspects of the book. When she arrives at El Laberinto, she learns that all women are witches while all men are werewolves. That’s how the magic has always been distributed among the Septimus. Except for her. She was born lobizona, a werewolf. Manu’s status as defying gender roles within a magical society rings similar to Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys.
These gender roles also bring to the surface an issue of homosexuality as Other in their society. The Septimus expect witches and werewolves to pair off. It’s their duty to perpetuate their dwindling population. Some of the supporting characters who defy these expectations find themselves drawn to Manu for that reason.
Manu’s status as exceptional makes for one of the most fascinating aspects of her character. Not only is she the first lobizona they’ve ever heard of, but she holds extraordinary power. This power keeps her safe from immediate execution. But she soon recognizes that if not for that power, she would have been subject to immediate consequences based on Septimus law.
She does not want to be an exception. That leaves room for other lobizonas like her to be killed simply because they don’t have the same powers. This rhetoric of exceptionalism parallels the discourse of the exceptional immigrant that can offer something to our society. Manu makes a commentary on how this idea of exceptionalism damages the fight for immigrants’ status in the United States. Who decides who has value and and worth to stay?
Plot of Lobizona
Garber creates a brilliant plot in which Manu’s fight against ICE mirrors her fight against Septimus law. It’s the kind of fantasy story that highlights why the genre shines when it comes to metaphors for real-life issues.
The novel takes a lot of inspiration from Harry Potter. We cannot ignore the issues many readers have now with stories of the legendary boy wizard, as they come from a transphobic author. But it’s important to recognize the far-reaching influence Harry Potter has had across cultures, as Lobizona is an Own Voices novel.
While the idea of a school of magic comes from a now controversial franchise, the story also takes inspiration from Argentine folklore. The Septimus and their world come straight out of legends. I was not familiar with the Argentine folklore, but Garber’s prose speaks so authentically to it, that it sucks you into this mythos. It’s easy to accept it as possible as witches and wizards of European folklore.
Hands down, I give this book 5 stars. There’s no doubt in my mind that this is a must-read for anyone who loves fantasy. It’s a fantastic take on magic. It delves into issues of gender and immigration. Plus, it’s just a fast, fun read to devour in a couple of days.
If you pick up a copy and read it, let me know your thoughts in the comments!