Nocturna by Maya Motayne

Title: Nocturna
Author: Maya Motayne
Series: A Forgery of Magic, #1
Pages: 380
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: May 7th 2019

      “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.”

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“What did you do that would make you never want to see your own face again? What makes you bury it under all this magic?”

Maya Motayne’s Nocturna is an exciting fantasy debut that embraces its Latinx culture, seamlessly weaving it into a high fantasy setting. When Prince Alfehr “Alfie” Reyes returns home to Castallan, he has one goal in mind: find his older brother who was swallowed by a magical void months earlier. If he doesn’t succeed, he will have to accept his role as the next king, something he is not ready for. Finn Voy is used to being on her own. Her ability to change her appearance has been invaluable, after all, you can’t catch a thief if you don’t know what she really looks like. When Finn is blackmailed into stealing an item from the royal family, it places her in direct opposition with Alfie. Their encounter sets up a series of events in which the prince is forced to make an impossible decision in order to save his cousin, but in the process he unleashes a dark and ancient power. As unlikely allies, Alfie and Finn race to stop the malicious magic from reuniting to its master, an event that will bring back a darkness capable of corrupting the entire world.

Nocturna is a Latinx fantasy that doesn’t detach itself from real world history. It addresses colonialism and slavery while also creating its own unique world. Castallan was once enslaved by Englassen colonizers who believed only they deserved to wield magic. They stripped Castallans of their culture, including their language which tied them directly to their magical abilities. Castallans were able to expel the Englassen out of their land and reclaim their language and magic. Nocturna underscores the long-term consequences of colonialism and how a culture is forever altered by it even in ways that at first seem inconsequential. I loved that the magical system in the novel had so many different layers. While people had an affinity for a particular elemental type of magic, their level of skill depended on training and study. Finn and Alfie have also been gifted with propio magic that manifests in different ways but is tied to how a person perceives themselves.

I loved both Alfie and Finn as characters and they were both easy to like and root for. Alfie has grown up the second son and never imagined that the kingdom could one day be his. He is haunted by the death of his older brother Dezmin, and isn’t sure if he can live up to the same kind of expectations. Alfie is sensitive, compassionate, and despite how much he beats himself up for any dark thoughts he might have, incredibly good. It’s always so refreshing to read about a soft male character and I especially loved how important his relationship with his brother and cousin, Luka, were to him. The Alfie and Luka dynamic was one of my favorites in the novel and it’s so rare to see such an affectionate relationship between two male relatives in fiction.

I loved how brusque Finn could be, her words were often as sharp as her blade. She is also clever and crafty. Much of who Finn is is a result of the traumas in her life. She grew up poor and lost her parents at a young age. Finn was taken in by a man who enjoyed controlling her, who was possessive and abusive. When Finn was finally able to get away, she had already learned keeping people at bay was both easier on them and herself. Like thievery, it’s just another means of survival. Much of her character arc revolves around her reclaiming personal autonomy. Her dynamic with Alfie is a lot of fun to read because they are so different, but also because they make a stellar team. I loved how rewarding their interactions were and how each of them made such an significant impact on the other.

Maya Motayne’s Nocturna is a fun fantasy that functions on multiple levels both as a fictional story and narrative on Latinx history. With every page I read, I grew more and more invested in the characters and the bittersweet ending left me begging for more.

★★★★

(4/5)

4 thoughts on “Nocturna by Maya Motayne

  1. After reading Mechanica and Venturess, in which readers see the effects of colonialism on a magical people that don’t directly represent any culture that I know, I’m glad to hear that there are other fantasy authors discuss the big topics we typically only address in school and putting it on the page.

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