Not one of the sacrifices chosen over the long history had survived–until now. On the tip of the Yucatan peninsula, the immortal Castillo family gathers in Tulum. Weary and haunted, they receive the names of fifty-two human sacrifices chosen once every fifty-two years for the Underworld, a tradition thought to have disappeared with the fall of the Aztec and Mayan empires. Driving home one night, college freshman Zara Moss swerves to avoid hitting a ghastly figure in the road. Lucas Castillo witnesses the car crash, but when it comes time to supervise her abduction from the wreckage, he intervenes. Something is different about Zara: Lucas has been having dreams of her arrival for five hundred years. As Lucas and Zara come together to put an end to the bloody sacrifices, they discover that the ancient tradition isn’t so easily broken. The gods are angry, and they have until the Winter Solstice to drag Zara to the Underworld.
Oh Dela, I am definitely adding you to my debut-authors-to-watch list after finishing The 52nd. Now, I’ve been pretty excited about this book for some time considering it’s the first young adult read that I have come across in my last decade of reading that features tales of Aztec and Mayan mythology. But this is not the only thing that makes this gloomy, ghostly apocalyptic contemporary so interesting to experience.
The 52nd tells the story of Zara Moss, a girl set to embark on her first year in college who one night is involved in a car accident that leaves her for almost dead, only to be rescued by an odd stranger she has flimsy memories of after her recovery. Zara soon finds herself emerged in a war between Aztec ghosts and Mayan Gods and their age-old war for the souls of men, and part of a prophecy that might help destroy the brutal cycle of sacrifices made in the name of the Underworld that Zara seems to be the last and 52nd victim of. With the help of Lucas and his immortal family, Zara tries to stay alive long enough in order to change the world by Winter Solstice.
Something that immediately struck me while reading Dela’s debut was the fact that while, yes, there are a bunch of YA paranormal tropes that seem to orbit around her work, it still sucked me right in. I was supposed to read the first chapter on a day busy with work, but found myself over 150 pages in a couple of hours later simply because I wanted, no, I needed to know what was going to happen and in what kind of world both leads Zara and Lucas would end up in. The thing that really made The 52nd such a compelling read was the fact that I for myself had zero knowledge of Aztec and Mayan mythology and history prior to picking this book up. Dela managed to paint a mythic picture of brutal sacrifices, ghost towns in the heart of the jungle and terrifying grimaces that had me immediately emerged in-between the setting of a modern-day US of A and a mythical mirror world that became more and more conflated. I was able to picture all her settings perfectly, and absolutely loved that they were true depictions of violence rather than a watered down version for the sake of age category. Dela’s writing was great to just be in the setting myself, almost like being part of my own dream sequence.
Although I had trouble connecting with Zara throughout most of the book because she seemed too smooth as a human being, I loved Lucas the more. It was awesome that Dela managed to actually depict him as a gorgeous, Adonis-looking immortal without turning him into a joke. Lucas treated Zara like an average mortal girl he found attractive, and only over time began to fall in love with her. The way he assessed her and deemed her not special in comparison to his immortality was a nice touch that added a whole lot of bonus points to the story. He wanted her physically, she wanted him physically, and even though their meeting was prophesied, their connection didn’t just come out of the blue or was based on a dreaded insta-love moment. They were attracted to each other, and Dela built from that realistically according to their ages. I thoroughly enjoyed all the descriptions of the characters (and their tattoos) because they made honest-to-God sense in the mythology of the story and were such a big part of the creeptastic atmosphere of it – big bonus points for sticking to that and adding two incredibly awesome pets to the whole shenanigan, as well as a seriously captivating underwordly villain that gave me the creeps and made me love him simultaneously. My twisted, twisted soul had wished there’d been more of him, but what we got was pretty awesomesauce, too. While the story started to lack the drive it had at the beginning somewhere in the middle, it managed to pull itself together for the finale in a way I was really exited about. I just wish there were more time for more Gods and tales and stories, because damn, that mythology was one awesome background to built a story around.
For everyone who loves young adult supernatural set in our modern day, I’d recommend The 52nd simply because damn, its unique setting makes up for what it is sometimes lacking. At times I felt overwhelmed by all the characters, especially Lucas’ family members, and it would’ve been nice to have a smaller pool of them just to lower some confusion throughout. However, the story in and of itself was so intricately and well bound to the setting, I gladly overlooked that aspect for the dreamy quality of the atmosphere. With this being Dela’s debut novel, I can say she did a great job of it, especially considering how well she managed to introduce me to an entire history of a different religion I had absolutely no clue whatsoever about. She managed to do so with such vivacity that I gladly overlooked character development deficits and plot twists I saw coming from a mile away. If you want a fall read that is entirely new, yet still familiar enough you can be sure you’ll enjoy it for the genre that it is, The 52nd is the next read for you. It’s dark and light, brutal and cute, and definitely an enjoyable and at times really positively weird read.