Deconstructing the Chosen One: Lucha of the Night Forest by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Life is hell in the city of Robado. Los Ricos control everything, and people like Lucha and her sister Lis are left with the scraps. Unable to deal with their misery, many turn to Olvida, a mind-altering drug made from a plant that was once used to commune with the gods and find clarity. The drug leaves its users in a haze of uncomprehension and emptiness until it eventually erases every memory from their mind. The sisters’ mother turned to Olvida after the death of her husband, and now her addiction has gotten so bad they’re about to lose their home. Street rat turned crime lord Alán offers Lucha a deal she cannot refuse, but refuse it she does. The consequences of that choice set in motion a story that will change the world.

Just when all hope seems lost, an ancient godling appears. Salvador promises to help Lucha destroy Olvida forever. He teaches her how to harness her latent nature magic… and use it as a weapon against those who would harm her. Lucha and Lis escape into the Night Forest, the magical woods surrounding Robado. There they encounter Paz, a young devotee of a goddess banned by Los Ricos, who joins the sisters on their quest. In the Night Forest, dark secrets lurk. Lucha must trust her heart as much as her gut to survive what’s coming. 

Tehlor Kay Mejia made a fan out of me for life with their sapphic, second world dystopian YA We Set the Dark on Fire duology, a series that does The Handmaid’s Tale better than Margaret Atwood, and with Miss Meteor, a delightful YA fantasy co-written with another brilliant queer Latinx author, Anna-Marie McLemore. I haven’t had the pleasure yet of reading their adult or middle grade fiction, but after Lucha of the Night Forest, they just moved up higher on my TBR list. 

Their latest novel is heavy (even more intense than the pretty intense We Set the Dark on Fire series). Content warnings for death, murder, drug addiction, child abuse, implied sexual assault, child abandonment, and, um, fungus consuming people alive. The world of Robado is one of violence and suffering. You either exploit others or are exploited. Lucha may only be 16 when the novel opens—and her sister Lis even younger—but she’s lived a lifetime already. Lucha lost her father, watched her mother waste away, and couldn’t protect her sister from being thrown to the metaphorical wolves. She was locked up in solitary and starved to near death. She has nothing. No, that’s not quite right. She has hope.

Hope runs through this novel. Sometimes it makes people braver and sometimes it frightens them. Sometimes it makes them do terrible things to the people they claim to care about and sometimes it makes justifying a selfish decision that much easier. Lucha has seen and experienced the worst the world has to offer her. She thinks she’s too practical for hope, but she keeps that candle flame burning no matter how tempting it is to snuff it out. 

Lucha learns that hope means something different to each person. For Alán, it means domination. For Lis, it means escape. For Paz, it means waiting for her savior. For the women who follow the goddess, it means trying to build a better world. For the goddess, it means waiting for your prodigal son to return. For Salvador, it means yearning for power. And for Lucha, hope means believing she can give her sister the opportunities she never had and that she herself is more than what others have decided she is.

Structurally, there’s a little too much plot happening a little too quickly. The story jumps around from trope to trope, all-encompassing subplot to all-encompassing subplot. The plot wasn’t difficult to follow; if the point was to leave the reader on edge then Mejia succeeded. The worldbuilding and magic system were fascinating and well-done, although a few aspects could have been fleshed out more given their importance to the story. 

However, for me the best part of the novel was the way Mejia deconstructed the Chosen One trope. Again and again, characters keep trying to frame Lucha as the Chosen One. They call her “salvadora” (or “savior”) and tell her her destiny is to save the world from a great evil. Lucha isn’t and doesn’t want to be their Chosen One. She’s just a girl who was pushed into something she was ill-prepared for and now must bear the responsibility for fixing it. All along, choices are being made, by others and by Lucha; fate has nothing to do with it. 

Lucha of the Night Forest is a strong standalone novel and a welcome return to young adult fantasy from author Tehlor Kay Mejia. Great action, charming romance, a compelling premise, and wonderful descriptions make this a novel worth checking out.

Lucha of the Night Forest is published by Make Me a World.
Read an excerpt here.

Alex Brown is a Hugo-nominated and Ignyte award-winning critic who writes about speculative fiction, librarianship, and Black history. Find them on twitter (@QueenOfRats), instagram (@bookjockeyalex), and their blog (


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