Hello Humans! I’m still here blasting through May releases like some kind of reading superhero (albeit a superhero that turns up a little bit late once all the fighting is done because she was really busy in April). Today I’m reviewing a YA fantasy Latinx-inspired novel, Maya Motayne’s Nocturna.
Set in a Latinx-inspired world, a face-changing thief and a risk-taking prince must team up to defeat a powerful evil they accidentally unleashed.
To Finn Voy, magic is two things: a knife to hold under the chin of anyone who crosses her…and a disguise she shrugs on as easily as others pull on cloaks.
As a talented faceshifter, it’s been years since Finn has seen her own face, and that’s exactly how she likes it. But when Finn gets caught by a powerful mobster, she’s forced into an impossible mission: steal a legendary treasure from Castallan’s royal palace or be stripped of her magic forever.
After the murder of his older brother, Prince Alfehr is first in line for the Castallan throne. But Alfie can’t help but feel that he will never live up to his brother’s legacy. Riddled with grief, Alfie is obsessed with finding a way to bring his brother back, even if it means dabbling in forbidden magic.
But when Finn and Alfie’s fates collide, they accidentally unlock a terrible, ancient power—which, if not contained, will devour the world. And with Castallan’s fate in their hands, Alfie and Finn must race to vanquish what they have unleashed, even if it means facing the deepest darkness in their pasts.
I was inspired by the note from Motayne at the beginning of the book, talking about how she didn’t feel represented in this genre when she was reading it, which led to her writing a story for people like her to find themselves in. I think that’s a sentiment echoed by a number of writers, in particular, diverse writers who have been so underrepresented in publishing in general but in particular in genre fiction. Thankfully YA fantasy is one of the places where, at least from my perspective, moves are being made – readers are demanding these books from the publishers and then supporting them when they come out. It’s wonderful to see books like Nocturna being championed (and featured in Fairyloot boxes).
With that in mind, the plot of this book didn’t feel particularly new, at least to me, it very much felt like a Latinx-inspired YA fantasy novel that would sit quite comfortably along with books like Ash Princess. I actually felt a lot of similarities between this book and VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic books. In some cases these kinds of books can feel quite stale, as though you’re just reading a clone of another YA novel, but Nocturna is an example of writing that story from another cultural perspective, and writing it in such a way that people who have been sorely misrepresented and underrepresented in this genre have a chance to be the heroes of such stories. While this book has a lot in common with other YA fantasy it certainly holds its own and would be a great addition to any fantasy reader’s shelf.
This book, while it is just shy of 500 pages in the hardback, has a plot that takes place over just a few days – certainly the events that escalate what’s happening occur incredibly quickly. It was a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ kind of a pace which, honestly, I didn’t mind. I’ve got quite used to books like this containing lengthy journeys and months of plots and plans coming together so it was actually quite refreshing to read something where the characters had to act then and there and didn’t have time to ponder the consequences. That’s not to say that the plot doesn’t have a huge amount in it – you get a number of heists and break-ins (and outs), disguises, near-death experiences, and a villain who made me truly uncomfortable – this isn’t your average villain – he’s VERY nasty (and that’s such a profound understatement).
I was also impressed that a romance that builds across such a short period of time could still feel like a slow burn. Motayne manages to pace that extremely well so that it doesn’t feel instantaneous but instead feels pretty believable. Rarely do I want more romance between characters after a book is done but I was pretty set on needing to know what happens next with these two.
While we’re on the subject of relationships, I thought that this book portrayed some really nice (if not always totally healthy) friendships between boys – something that I rarely see done well in YA fantasy. Alfie and his childhood friend, Alfie and his brother – it all felt realistic and non-toxic (for the most part) and I was pleased.
Overall, I think this is a book that YA fantasy readers are going to love. It’s a great setting, a great magic system, great characters – it’s great. I think this is a smashing success of a first novel and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Maya Motayne.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Nocturna is available now!
What say you? Will you be reading Nocturna? Let me know in the comments below!