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)

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Snapshot Review: American Panda by Gloria Chao

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Series: N/A
Pages: 311
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: February 6th 2018

TW: Fatphobia

      “At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
      With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

      But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?.”

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“But with each burst of energy, I didn’t feel release. Something was different. My feet slipped on the tile that should have caressed my toes and allowed me to turn endlessly. My limbs didn’t feel like extensions of my body—they were burdens, weighing me down and dragging me around. The wind through my hair wasn’t refreshing—it made my head pound with bursts of pain.”

  • Mei – I really enjoyed Mei’s voice, found her to be very relatable, and her overall journey to be a really rewarding story to read.
  • Growing up and apart from your parents – I really liked that this one not only focused on growing up, but how this sometimes means growing apart from your parents. I think letting teens know that you might not agree with your parents’ values as you grow older isn’t a bad thing.
  • Parental expectations vs individual dreams – Mei’s parents want her to become a doctor, but because of her germaphobia, she fears she will never be able to make it through med school. She also has a passion for dance, one that was only supported by her parents when they believed it could help her get into college.
  • Sibling relationship – My favorite relationship in this one was Mei’s with her older brother Xing. He’s been estranged from his family and when the two reconnect with one another, it made me unexpectedly emotional. I loved that despite their different relationship with their parents, they find a way to support one another.
  • Adult characters also get a chance to learn about themselves – Mei’s character arc is really important, but I loved that she isn’t the only one who learns things about themselves. Several adult characters are pushed out of their comfort zone and while most of them don’t change, it made me incredibly happy to see those who did grow.

  • Stereotypes – I mention this only because I’ve seen many reviews complain of the unflattering stereotypes in this novel that involve Mei’s parents and other relatives. They come across as very rigid, unreasonable, and overbearing. I personally believe #OwnVoices books should have the freedom to explore stereotypical characters, but this might be a turn off for some readers.

  • Gloria Chao’s American Panda focuses on a Taiwanese-American teen straddling the fence between two cultures and is ultimately a cathartic story about finding out who you are despite all the external voices telling you who you should be.

★★★★
(4/5)

ARC Review: Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

Title: Sorcery of Thorns
Author: Margaret Rogerson
Series: N/A
Pages: 464
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: June 4th 2019
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.
    Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.
      As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.”

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Margaret Rogerson’s Sorcery of Thorns captivates with its luscious world-building, an exciting plot, and dynamic characters. Orphaned and left on the doorstep of the Great Library of Summershall, Elisabeth Scrivener grew up surrounded by a treasure trove of books. Elisabeth has worked hard to earn her place, apprenticing until she can convince the Director of the library that she is ready to become a warden, tasked with protecting both the library and the dangerous books they keep in their underground vaults. When Elisabeth happens upon a theft, she stumbles upon a scheme to rob the six Great Libraries and bring about a cataclysmic end. With no one to turn to, Elisabeth reaches out to the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his demon servant. A decision she may come to regret as she’s been taught that magic is inherently evil and those who practice it, while bound by the laws of the land, are capable of acts of great malevolence.

Rogerson proved what a great world builder she was in her debut An Enchantment of Ravens. In her sophomore novel she once again impresses. Every setting is vividly drawn from the Gothic and ominous library vaults to the enchanting and mysterious Thorn Manor. Even the small glimpses we get of the Otherworld feel fully formed, readers peeking into a universe whole and dark, yet undeniably alluring. Booklovers will be in rapture of Rogerson’s magical world, where books speak and have mercurial personalities. The most dangerous whisper words of temptation, taking in the weak-minded and manipulating them. Dark sorcery of the past gifted the world with grimoires, but produced grotesque tomes made from human parts. And when one of these books is damaged, it sets free a monster capable of killing all in its path.

Though Elisabeth has grown up surrounded by all the knowledge books contain, her world is very small. She learns that not everything is black and white. That it is not magic that can corrupt, but greed and power. She’s a brave heroine with just the right amount of recklessness, making you cheer, but also keeping you on the edge of your seat. Nathaniel makes the perfect love interest, he is mysterious but sardonic enough not to come across as too rigid. Much of who he is has been defined by the mistakes of his ancestors, making him a reluctant ally. Elisabeth becomes a catalyst for change in him, forcing him to finally confront the nightmares of his past. Nathaniel is also bisexual, which is something I still find really refreshing since male bisexual characters as so rare. Sorcery of Thorns also has a great pair of minor characters. Katrien, Elisabeth’s best friend, though she doesn’t get a lot of page time, is her equal in curiosity and propensity for trouble. I wouldn’t mind a companion novel devoted to her. But it’s Nathaniel’s demon servant Silas who stole my entire heart. He has been more of a friend and caretaker to Nathaniel, though it goes completely against his nature to care. He is complicated and dangerous and yet still comes across as the kindest of all the characters.

Sorcery of Thorns is a lush fantasy which will cast a spell on readers and its surprisingly unrelenting action scenes will have you racing to the end.

★★★★★
(5/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal

Title: Five Midnights
Author:
Ann Dávila Cardinal
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Publisher: Tor Teen
Release Date: June 4th 2019
**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review.**

TW: ableism

      “Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.
      If Lupe Dávila and Javier Utierre can survive each other’s company, together they can solve a series of grisly murders sweeping though Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there—murderer, or monster?”

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  • The concept – I love the concept for this one. Cultural myths coming to life in a modern setting and two teens desperate to solve the mystery with a body count that continues to grow.
  • Javier – I love reading about a teen character who didn’t always make the best decisions, but who is doing their best. Javi has been clean for two years, but he still struggled with his drug addiction on a daily basis.
  • A too curious for her own good MC – I’m fondly referring to Lupe as the Latina Nancy Drew. She is driven by her insatiable curiosity and doesn’t easily back down. When there is a mystery to solve, she is going to do whatever it takes to solve it.
  • Family – Lupe doesn’t have a lot of good adult role models in her life, so her relationship with her uncle is so important. I loved scenes between these two and loved that so much of Lupe’s drive to solve mysteries was nurtured over the years by her uncle.
  • Puerto Rican myths – I need more horror books in my life that explore more Latinx myths. I loved the monster in this one, the concept of retribution, and that the past can sometimes come back to haunt you.

  • Lupe – As much as I enjoyed Lupe’s stubbornness, I found her need to argue about everything grating. Any time someone tried to help her or maybe got in her face, Lupe was ready for a fight and/or argument. I was never sure if the author meant for this to be an example of a teen sorting out who she is in the world or if Lupe’s behavior was meant to somehow “prove” what a feminist she was. If the latter, the text completely missed the mark. While I could appreciate how much Lupe longed to feel validated as Puerto Rican, she never fully acknowledges her privilege as white-passing and expected everyone to immediately make her feel accepted. This made me root against her more than anything else.
  • More banter – I love banter and the synopsis promised banter. What I got was a couple of teens arguing maybe once and one making some poor decisions because she had to prove she was tough.
  • Marisol – I had high hopes when this character showed up. I pictured Lupe and Marisol forging an important friendship, but this character was so mistreated. We aren’t supposed to like her, but she made a lot of sense and most of the characters were so dismissive of her. Her interactions with Lupe especially bothered me because all they seemed to do was tear each other down.

Ann Dávila Cardinal’s Five Mightnights is refreshing when it comes to its monster, but suffers from overplayed tropes like girl-on-girl hate and a protagonist that mistakes combativeness with strength.

★★
(2/5)