Nocturna in the context of of the story: The end of all good things
Nocturna by Maya Motayne starts off with a prince that should not be and by all rights, does not want to be a prince, has lost his older brother, Dez when a coup led by nobles rise against the noble family use magic to send him into a dark void. Prince Alfie goes on a long sojourn of grief. And returns to cheers and adulation, hopefulness from the people of Castallan that he doesn’t want, and he feels, isn’t deserved.
Thank you to Balzer+Bray and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for a honest review.
Disclaimer Maya Motayne Speaks of Nocturna being inspired by her Dominican heritage and lack of Latinx books she sought as a child. This is not my culture, nor my experience. It is not my lane or my right to comment on these aspects of Nocturna. I will not do so. My aim is to review the story. I will leave any need to comment on the representation of these aspects with-in the story from those who share her heritage and experience.
On a quest to find Dez, who he believes isn’t dead but lost he continues through a series of dangerous card games that utilize cards casted by magic by the players. Tonight’s game, promising himself, will be the last. A game with stakes higher than ever before, but he believes will hold the answers he seeks to save Dez.
Meanwhile, the thief, Finn, is on a mission, as well, that leads her to the same game and the same prize. A shape shifter with the magical gift to change faces, she steals the identity of a woman invited to join the game and uses a spell to knockout the rest of the players. However, Alfie is able to hold her magic at bay and chase her down. Able to steal the books, Finn is left in a precarious position with a mobster and charged to steal a vanishing cloak from the palace or face the prospect of having to work for her gang.
While at the palace, Finn witnesses the poisoning of Alfie’s cousin, raised as brothers, Luka. Having figured out who each other is, Alfie begs for her help and to save Luka’s life Alfie makes a deal, unbeknownst to him, with the devil… quite literally. Or at least, the black magic that can bring Sombra, the Black King, back to his physical being, back to life. It is now up to Finn and Alfie to stop this monstrosity before Nocturna strangles not just Alfie’s Kingdom, but the world.
Finn really (at this point) has no reason to care. This isn’t her fight or problem. However, it becomes apparently clear, and quickly that the major theme of Nocturna is redemption. And Montayne holds the theme of redemption throughout Nocturna very well. It isn’t overstated to the point of overkill, nor is it left to reader inference.
Both Alfie and Finn have much to atone for. Alfie has let this monstrosity loose on the world, benevolent intentions aside (and that is not all that he needs to be forgiven for and forgive himself for). Finn is a thief and like Alfie had done other things that she needs to be forgiven, and needs to forgive herself for, as well. However, those are spoilers to be found out through the story.
Overall, Nocturna is an unexpected surprise. it features centuries long, culturally entrenched magic that respected and as intrinsic to each person as breathing, facing off versus very evil dark magic There isn’t any voodoo in Nocturna, but the darkness mentioned in the synopsis is a bit misleading.
For someone who’s favorite season of American Horror Story is Coven, both the least gory and to many, the best season, descendants of Salem hone their skills as they fight dark magic of the world, as well as voodoo (not to mention the devil, himself- see the last season- apocalypse). Please understand that I’m not saying they are exact parallels by any stretch, but I did find myself enjoying certain parts because of the connections I found. I also have been looking for books that would fit the “if you love Coven, read…” and I would say this fits the bill in a lot of ways.
No Spoilers-AHS Coven
Spoilers- AHS Apocalypse
Finn, as a character, also reminded me a bit of a female Kaz Brekker, from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Again, not an exact replica, but there were parts of her (up until the last 1/3 of the book) that seemed inspired by Kaz. This will be out of context, unless you read the book, but without giving too much away, there is a dragon trinket worn by Alfie throughout most of the book. During the last half of the book, this seemed to take on a one-ring vibe from Lord of the Rings. Please, don’t take any of this wrong. I am in no way saying Nocturna lacked originality.
There is plenty of originality to go around. Those are the parts that just called to other pieces that I made text-to-text connections with. I see a direct parallel between X-Men and Umbrella Academy but that doesn’t mean either are not wholly distinct and original. Obviously, both are. Each person having a “propio” which is a special magic that is individual to each person, personal and sacred, is especially original. Everyone is gifted with magic but their propio is unique to each person. That is just one of the many things that sets it apart from many stories featuring magic.
Speaking of the originality that sets it apart and makes Nocturna a fantastic read, is the depth of gore, horror and “darkness” go way farther than anything I and I would fathom anyone else expects to encounter. For me? This is of no issue, and quite an unexpected an enjoyable surprise. I am not sure how others will feel about the dark twist the story takes.
There was so much blood. Too much… Limbs had been cut off, throats slashed, and bellies eviscerated to leak rivers of red… With a strangled gasp she took a step away and slipped on something bony- a dismembered hand splayed on the floor like a spider of flesh and bone… <Alfie’s> gaze drew up and Finn followed his stare, afraid of what they’d find. A body was pegged to the ceiling with knives, a smile cut into the throat.
All this from a centuries old black magic God set-free that must go on a bloody killing rampage to breathe strength into its being before taking full form.
A hand with blackened nails rose from behind the bar, curling over the wood, its palm slick with blood. A second hand followed. A man rose slowly slowly from behind the serving bar. He was shaking violently, his eyes black from edge to edge. His veins, raised and dark, squirmed beneath his flesh. He breathed raggedly, the sound sending a shudder through her bones.
After finding a human form with a heart black enough to hold a magic so utterly dark most human forms disintegrate to ash upon its attempts to inhabit the body, its hunger becomes palatable. Needing to feed on enough bodies before it becomes strong enough to bring the Sombra God, of dark magic, to full life, it continues to feed on the darkest lives it can find. In the meantime, having picked a man with a personal connection to the thief (Finn), it tortures the Prince and Finn, along the way.
First, it attempts to filet the Alfie like a fish (literally pulling his bones from his body as you would a fish). Then playing Finn like a puppet by entrenching strings within her body (literally within- attaching to her veins) and whipping her upside down where he could maneuver her every move.
Additionally, the depths of which it goes to prove redemption is possible to anyone, no matter the acts committed in the past. That people shouldn’t be judged on their worst mistakes whether because of the circumstance that forced them into the position in which they caused it.
The remorsefulness and ability to become better people, or their ability, under the right system, to learn, grow and rejoin society as a fully contributing member. Not just a fully contributing member of society but a positive value and teacher to those that are at cross-roads of their own is thoroughly shown throughout the story. Montayne is to be commended for this work as it is a direct and important reflection on our current society, justice system and inhumane prison system.
There are a couple of plot points in the book that are predictable and I would argue that although this is the first book in a new series, the way the book wraps-up, it could easily be a stand-alone novel.
I am still excited and will definitely read the second book in the series. I’m just not quite sure where it will go. With everything wrapped up so neat and tidy at the end of the first book, I have no idea where Montayne will go. Then again with all the amazing surprises I didn’t see coming in the first book, I am more than willing to bet she has more cooked up for the sequel.