3.5 / 5 stars
A desperate prince. A faceless thief. A darkness unleashed.
Nocturna is the debut novel of Maya Motayne. Set in a Latinx-inspired fantasy world, it tells the story of Prince Alfehr (aka Alfie), the heir to the throne of Castallan. Alfie was never supposed to be the King – that was his older brother, Dez, who died in mysterious and tragic circumstances. Alfie is certain that Dez isn’t really dead though, and he has devoted himself to finding some way of bringing him back. His quest sees him isolating himself from his family, including his best friend and cousin, Luka, and dealing in forbidden, dark magic.
Across the city, Finnian ‘Finn’ Voy is trying to escape her past. With her ability to change her appearance, Finn is a talented thief who hasn’t seen her own face in years.
A chance encounter throws Finn and Alfie into each other’s worlds and when Alfie accidentally unleashes a powerful, ancient force that threatens the people of Castallan, they have to team up to stop it.
Nocturna is an assured debut. The characters are engaging and the story is a fast-paced adventure. I loved the interplay between Finn and Alfie and the way friendship and respect (and the hint of a romance to come?) grows between them over the course of the novel. Finn’s backstory explores abuse and trauma in a way that I thought was brilliantly handled. The supporting characters are great as well, especially Luka and Xiomara, and the dark magic threat is genuinely creepy.
However, if you’re thinking that the tale of a reluctant prince and a charming thief teaming up to defeat an ancient dark magic sounds a little like the Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab… well, yes. Alfie, Finn and Luka parallel Kell, Lila and Rhy. Alfie’s ability to ‘see’ people’s magic is reminiscent of Alucard Emery’s ability to ‘see’ magic. Alfie uses dark magic to save Luka’s life and inadvertently changes him forever in much the same way that Kell uses dark magic to save Rhy’s life and inadvertently changes him forever. Those similarities are what knock the rating down for me. I felt like Nocturna hit too many of the same character and story beats as the Shades of Magic, which is a shame because the characters are all engaging in their own right and there’s some lovely world-building in there.
The things which make Nocturna unique, like the Latinx setting, are wonderful. There’s some great discussion about the effects of colonialism – Castallan was under the rule of the country Englass for generations and the people were stripped of their autonomy, their language and their magic. I desperately wanted to see more of this theme and I hope it can be explored in more detail in the sequels. I love too how Spanish is the language of magic and there are some lovely sensory details, like the fields full of sugar cane and the taste of sweet plantains.
Despite some misgivings, I will definitely be continuing with this series. I want to see what happens next to Alfie, Finn and Luka. My hope for this trilogy is that the world will be expanded and the characters will find their own, unique paths.