Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls (Cece Rios #1)

by Kaela Rivera (Author)

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls (Cece Rios #1)
Reading Level: 4th – 5th Grade
Series: Cece Rios

Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family's disapproval. After all, only brujas--humans who capture and control criaturas--consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime. When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil's Alley, though, she'll have to become a bruja herself--while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas.

Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey. With him at her side,  Cece sets out to reunite her family--and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.


Starred Review
Enchanted readers will hope for more from Cece and her extraordinary, magical world.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
Lively, endearing, and full of character.

School Library Journal

Cecelia Rios does the unthinkable by freeing a dark criatura from the grips of her village. Criaturas have long plagued the residents of the Tierra del Sol desert. Forewarned by her Mama, Cece knows that criaturas were creatures born from the dust and the words of the Great Namer, which aim to harm humans. Shadowed by betrayal and shame, Cece deems herself weak, believing the town whispers that water smothered her inner fire. But when her sister Juana is kidnapped by the criatura, El Sombreron, Cece grapples with a decision that rivals her Mama's beliefs. Her powerful choice unearths secrets of her family's past and leads Cece down a forbidden path. Confronted with her fears, Cece forms unexpected alliances while battling a foe unlike any criatura: herself. Set against the Tierra del Sol backdrop, intertwined with rich Mexican folklore and culturally infused language, this is a brilliantly unveiled coming-of-age story not for the faint of heart. Rivera cultivates a valiant heroine unafraid to follow her heart and stand against the norm. With a captivating story line and adversaries lurking between the pages, readers will remain engrossed as fantasy mingles with the real world. The engaging plot unravels with twists and turns, keeping readers on edge even after Cece's revelation. VERDICT Courage, determination, and unwavering love are the foundation of this debut; a much-needed addition to public and school libraries.—Suraya Jairam, Queens P.L., Hollis, NY

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Pretending to be an apprentice bruja, an unassuming preteen enters a dangerous competition to rescue her 15-year-old sister from monstrous forces in this mesmerizing middle grade fantasy. In Tierra del Sol, an isolated town plagued by magical criaturas that roam the surrounding desert, 12-year-old Cece Rios lives as "a shadow cast from the light of other people's fires." While her older sister Juana wields fire opal in rituals to protect the town and burns "bright like the Sun," everyone believes a childhood encounter with a criatura cursed Cece with a soul like water--and left her "the weakest person in the village." But when a "powerful dark criatura" known as "El Sombrerón, the Bride Stealer" snatches Juana right before her eyes, Cece must tap into her inner strength and enter a world of battles and brujas to get her sister back. With excellent pacing and rich world-building, debut author Rivera flawlessly immerses readers in the landscape of Tierra del Sol and Cece's journey ("The town lights grew brighter, each building like a lantern warming the edges of the desert"). An enthralling, finely crafted read. Includes a glossary of Spanish words with limited pronunciations. Ages 8-12. Agent: Serene Hakim, Ayesha Pande Literary. (Apr.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Pokemon meets Coco in a spirited and moving adventure, at once familiar and tantalizingly strange, peopled by beautifully crafted and vivid characters."—David Bowles, award-winning author of They Call Me Güero
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Publication date
April 20, 2021
Cece Rios
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
ALSC Notable Children's Book
Selection 2022

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