Nocturna by Maya Motayne – Review

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.


The Book Blog Newbie Tag

Well, hello there. Welcome to my brand new blog. My name is Emily and this is where I will be rambling about the stories I love. This is my first foray into the world of book blogging so I’m going to kick things off with the Book Blog Newbie Tag.

Why did you start this blog?

I don’t really have anyone in my life who reads the same books as me. My husband reads some of the same books – we both like the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown, although he’s not quite as into it as I am (and he doesn’t understand my love for Cassius au Bellona). So when I have a book I love and I want to talk about it, I end up talking to myself in the shower. Or sometimes I talk to my cats, who just wonder why I’m not feeding them. Or sometimes I’ll talk to my son but he’s three, his favourite book is Quick Quack Quentin, so he doesn’t really offer much insight.

I started a Booktube channel late last year but for various reasons (basically anxiety, financial limitations and time restraints) I’ve hit pause on that for now.  I still want to remain part of the community though and I think blogging is going to be a better fit for me.

What are some fun and unique things you can bring to book blogging?

Is it a requirement that I be unique? Honestly, I’m just hoping people enjoy this blog and find it engaging.

What are you most excited for about this new blog?

Being part of the bookish community and making friends.

Why do you love reading?

That’s a deceptively hard question. I guess escapism. I have a fairly mundane life so I love reading about different worlds. I love the emotions that reading can stir up. Honestly, you might as well ask why I love breathing, reading is that fundamental to me.

What book or series got you into reading?

I honestly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a reader. Roald Dahl was the first author that I was aware of as being my favourite. My first book fandom was Harry Potter, way back in the early 2000s. The series that brought me to the online bookish community was Red Rising – after Iron Gold came out last year, I was looking online for somewhere to talk about the books and I found the Facebook group, then Booktube, then book blogs.

What questions would you ask your favourite authors?

How do you find the motivation to get through the hard days?

I would specifically ask Laini Taylor if she could please write a novella about Thyon and Ruza finding dragon eggs.

What challenges in starting a blog do you think will be the hardest to overcome?

Probably not letting my anxiety and lack of self-esteem get in the way.

Also I’m sure finding an audience is going to be hard. This is probably going to feel like a secret diary for a while.

When did you start reading?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a reader. I was a very shy, socially awkward child (well, I’m still a shy, socially awkward adult but I’ve learned to fake it) and I was usually happiest when I was alone, in my room, with a book.

Where do you read?

I do most of my reading on my commute into work. I get the tram into work and I take my Kindle with me every day (I do most of my reading on my Kindle and I am very much pro ebook). I love to snuggle up on the sofa with a cup of tea and a book but I don’t get much opportunity to do that with a three-year-old in the house. I think my favourite place to read though is in the bath (I do the old Kindle-in-a-ziploc bag trick) – hot water, bubbles, a candle and a book. Bliss.

What kind of books do you like to read?

As you may have guessed from the title of this blog, the vast majority of what I read is fantasy (both YA and adult – I don’t care that I’m in my thirties, if it’s a good book then it’s a good book). My absolute favourite book is Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. I even have a Strange the Dreamer tattoo.

I read the occasional bit of sci-fi, like the Red Rising series – and I am counting the days until Dark Age is released (73).