In Season of the Bruja, Aaron Durán depicts the conflict of surviving cultural practices vs. rampant colonialism, while also delivering a touching story of grief and self-discovery.
Being the last bruja, Althalia carries a tremendous weight on her shoulders. Immense powers dwell inside her, and she needs to ensure that the history and ways of her ancestors live on. Her beloved abuela teaches Althalia all she can about her growing magical skills and the traditions of their people, but, after a chance encounter with a fanatic priest, the young bruja’s world is thrown into chaos. Facing a centuries-old and deadly prejudice, Althalia must fully realize her role as a bruja before everything she has worked hard to protect becomes lost to time forever.
Durán, over the course of the comic, presents readers with an intriguing, yet somewhat cryptic world. At many points, it feels as if one would need a basic understanding of Mexican folklore going in, as certain creatures, concepts, and figures go unnamed and unexplained, which may confuse some readers as to their significance in the story and to the characters. It is not enough to bring down the story as a whole, but may lead one to backtrack their reading several times to make sure they did not miss anything. I especially felt the shakiness of this world going into the third act, with characters moving from place to place so quickly, mythologies intertwining, and new, mysterious adversaries cropping up in the last thirty pages with little to no explanation. I didn’t even realize where much of the climax was taking place until I had finished and was reflecting on what I had read.
Overall, the world Durán has created is not an unrealized one, but one that could have used some more definition. At several points, it feels more like the second volume of a series rather than the first as the story expects the reader to take several plot threads at face value. From the very first page, readers are thrust immediately into action as we see Althalia taking on a possessed child with her friends Dana and Chuey, a werecoyote and chupacabra, respectively. The dynamics of their relationships have already been fully developed, which makes the scene almost feel like an intrusion rather than an introduction. The reader may struggle to engage with the conflict as these characters are still strangers to them, and the reason as to why these specific characters are here is a mystery. While the rash Althalia, passionate Dana and kind, paternal Chuey become endearing characters as the story goes on, the beginning paints a disorienting view of them.
All issues aside, Season of the Bruja is essential reading when it comes to its message of the importance of preserving traditional customs and the destructive impact of colonialism. Durán does not shy away from depicting the historical and enduring prejudices of the Christian church against Indigenous practices, making Althalia and her abuela’s commitment to the survival of their heritage all the more empowering and inspiring. Though Althalia struggles to find her place in her identity, her pride and dedication to those who came before her ultimately shine through. This is a comic that celebrates its culture and the love for it is shown on every page.
Sara Soler’s illustrations only add to the magic of Durán’s story, with eye-catching, lively colors and atmospheric lighting. The designs of the supernatural characters are a real treat, especially the otherworldly palettes of Althalia and abuela’s alebrijes, as well as the sinister, imposing forms of multiple demons. Full page spreads accompany significant moments in the story, each one beautiful and impactful as Althalia’s emotions start to run high and her magic takes center stage. Unfortunately, there are several moments in which it is difficult to track the action of the main characters, whether due to the lack of a panel showing transitions between movements or a hasty layout. Characters will suddenly appear in different places than shown before without explanation or have an interaction off panel that could have contextualized the scene better. In its calmer moments, the flow is more natural and easier to grasp, though there is still the odd messy transition here and there. Still, it is a style that matches the heart and soul of Althalia’s journey, giving it a standout look that is familiar and resonating.
The world may need some settling into, but Season of the Bruja remains a graphic novel with a captivating, strong identity, and heartfelt representation of Mexican culture. Those looking for a supernatural, emotional story with a heavy mythical and familial aspects will find an engaging read here. Due to its heavier themes underlaid with a lighter tone, this title may resonate the most with teens and adults. Librarians and educators in search of materials that give meaningful representation as well as cover rarely explored topics in graphic novels, such as systemic cultural erasure and preservation of Indigenous history, should consider purchasing this title.
Season of the Bruja, Vol. 1
By Aaron Durán
Art by Sara Soler
Oni Press, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: grade 7-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Latinx, Spanish, Bisexual
Character Representation: Latinx, First Nations or Indigenous,