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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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)

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhouse

Title: Storm of Locusts
Author: Rebecca Roanhouse
Series: The Sixth World, #2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: April 23rd 2019

      “It’s been four weeks since the bloody showdown at Black Mesa, and Maggie Hoskie, Diné monster hunter, is trying to make the best of things. Only her latest bounty hunt has gone sideways, she’s lost her only friend, Kai Arviso, and she’s somehow found herself responsible for a girl with a strange clan power.
      Then the Goodacre twins show up at Maggie’s door with the news that Kai and the youngest Goodacre, Caleb, have fallen in with a mysterious cult, led by a figure out of Navajo legend called the White Locust. The Goodacres are convinced that Kai’s a true believer, but Maggie suspects there’s more to Kai’s new faith than meets the eye. She vows to track down the White Locust, then rescue Kai and make things right between them.
      Her search leads her beyond the Walls of Dinétah and straight into the horrors of the Big Water world outside. With the aid of a motley collection of allies, Maggie must battle body harvesters, newborn casino gods and, ultimately, the White Locust himself. But the cult leader is nothing like she suspected, and Kai might not need rescuing after all. When the full scope of the White Locust’s plans are revealed, Maggie’s burgeoning trust in her friends, and herself, will be pushed to the breaking point, and not everyone will survive.

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“I draw my Böker and her eyes go from hate to fear. I’ve decided to let her live, but she doesn’t know that. For a moment I savor the terror I elicit, the control I have over her. It’s a dark emotion, something I’m not proud of, but it’s there nonetheless.”

Rebecca Roanhouse’s Storm of Locusts, sequel to Trial of Lightning, is a tension-filled thrill ride from start to finish. Maggie has slowly been picking up the pieces of her life. But her decision to pull the trigger on one important person to her life and bury another still occupies a great deal of space in her head. She’s been content waiting for Kai’s return, wanting to give him space, but also a little afraid of their reunion. When the Goodacre Twins show up on her doorstep with news that Kai and their little brother Caleb have gone missing, Maggie doesn’t hesitate to join them. But a new foe has risen in Dinétah, the White Locust is spreading the word of another impending apocalypse, and he has taken Kai and Caleb. Maggie and her crew journey across Dinétah and outside the Wall in search of this White Locust. When they discover what the White Locust has in store, it becomes a race to stop him before everything they love comes crumbling down.

Trail of Lightning introduced readers to Maggie Hoskie, whose clan powers made her an unstoppable force. A monsterslayer, destined to be defined by bloodshed. Faced with an impossible decision, Maggie was forced to say goodbye to the one person who was able to get past her walls. Kai helped Maggie learn how to trust and rely on someone else. In Storm of Locusts our protagonist is pushed even further out of her comfort zone. New characters like the young Ben are thrust into her path. This young teen girl has her own traumas she’s working through and Maggie becomes the one person she can count on. For Maggie this is a completely terrifying and unprecedented situation. She’s not used to being someone’s rock. She’s still learning what it means to not be a killer and now she has this girl on her hands who very much believes her purpose is to kill. Ben is a reflection of Maggie’s past self and Maggie isn’t sure she is capable of not being a killer, let alone helping someone else see there’s another way.

As much as I missed Kai’s presence for the majority of this one, I loved seeing Maggie grow and forge new and significant relationships with other people. With Ben she gains someone she can protect and teach. With Rissa Goodacre she gains a peer and a friend. Their relationship is strained from the beginning as Rissa isn’t convinced of Kai’s innocence, but with each obstacle put in their path, they begin to rely on one another more and more. There are a lot earth-shattering action scenes in this one, but the tête-à-tête between Maggie and Rissa near the end might be the most satisfying scene in this series so far. I also love that each person the crew comes across on their journey feels significant in their own way and there’s a subtle humor in so many of these scenes that made me chuckle but never distracted from the tension-filled story.

Roanhouse is masterful in the execution of both build-up and payoff. Maggie’s separation from Kai is like a lump in the throat. His absence is palpable in every scene and Roanhouse kept me turning page after page, desperate for their reunion. I particularly loved the tension leading up to Maggie’s meeting with the White Locust. From the unnatural and unrelenting swarms chasing Maggie and her crew, to his trademark crucifixions, the antagonist is a terrifying villain even before we meet him. I do wish we had a chance to meet some of his followers because to me there is nothing scarier than a charismatic and manipulative leader able to persuade a group of people into feeling grateful to give up full control of themselves.

Storm of Locusts keeps readers on their toes with a new villain, new characters, and action scenes that are as harrowing and crisp as they were in the first.

★★★★★

(5/5)

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Title: We Set the Dark on Fire
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Series: We Set the Dark on Fire, #1
Pages: 384
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: February 26th 2019

      “At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children. Both paths promise a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class.
      Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her pedigree is a lie. She must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society.
      And school couldn’t prepare her for the difficult choices she must make after graduation, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio.
      Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or will she give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?”

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“You’re a hundred shades of a girl. You hold those shadows and bring them to life when you need them, and they’re flawless. Look how far you’ve risen, how many people you’ve fooled.”

Tehlor Kay Mejia’s debut, We Set the Dark on Fire, is an empowering dystopian fantasy with real-world correlations about classism and immigration. Daniela Vargas has done everything in her power to hide that she was born on the wrong side of the island of Medio. She’s risen above her station and is on the verge of fulfilling all the dreams her parents have had for her. As a graduate from the Medio School for Girls, Dani will become one of two wives to a son of one of Medio’s most powerful political families. Just when it becomes certain that her secret will unravel all her well-laid plans, she’s thrown a lifeline by an operative of the notorious revolutionary group La Voz. In exchange for their aid, Dani will have to become a spy in her new husband’s household, but Mateo Garcia isn’t just the son of a powerful father, he has direct influence over the policies that have kept people like Dani in poverty. Further complicating matters are Dani’s growing feelings for her husband’s other wife Carmen. When Dani sees first hand how ruthless the government can be, she must decide if she’s willing to fight for a safer future for everyone by standing in direct opposition to her husband. But if he discovers her deception, she won’t live long enough to see such a future.

There are so many intricate details to the world-building in this one, every element felt so deliberate and added something unique to the narrative. We Set the Dark on Fire opens with Medio mythology, weaving a story of two brother Gods and the jealousy that tore them apart. It’s a story that ends with the island of Medio being separated by a wall, where one class of people is allowed to flourish, while the other is condemned to a life of poverty. It’s the origin of Medio’s matrimonial tradition of raising a select group of girls to be married off to the most eligible and rich bachelors. Dani has been groomed to be a Primera, the wife meant to be her husband’s equal in intelligence and power. Carmen is a Segunda, the more nurturing of the pair, meant to provide her husband with a warm home and children. This mythology becomes a justification for people like Mateo Garcia to see people seeking a better life as law-breakers, groups like La Voz calling for equality as dangerous, and anyone sympathetic to these people as traitors. In this world, morality is not black and white. Those in opposition to rebel groups like La Voz believe they have more of a claim to liberty and prosperity, and they will do everything in their power to keep the population fearful. Those on the resistance side have tried to keep their protests peaceful, but their people are starving, are being thrown in prison, and when change refuses to happen, you’re left with little choice but extremes.

I loved how different Dani and Carmen were as characters as they were raised to take on certain roles. As a Primera, Dani has been taught to value her stoicism, to not give anything away, to observe before acting. Carmen on the other hand has been raised a Segunda, known for their passion and enthusiasm. Watching their relationship develop was such a treat. At first, every interaction and every word is fraught with animosity, but slowly their exchanges become charged with tension and an undeniable attraction. I loved Dani’s personal story arc as a young woman hoping to make the best of her circumstances. Her parents’ dream has become her own goal, even though she might have been happier living a simpler life. She carries their dreams on her shoulders and when she is given an opportunity to do more with her life, to fight for those not as fortunate as herself, she has to decide not only to give up the comforts of her new life, but also risk the dreams her parents had for her. I really wish we got a couple of chapters from Carmen’s perspective. With the way this one ends, it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface of who this young woman is.

We Set the Dark on Fire is like no other dystopian fantasy that I’ve read. I loved that it centers Latinx culture, features two complex Latina characters, and that their romance is given center-stage despite the patriarchal setting.

★★★★

(4/5)