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Review: Nocturna - Maya Montayne

Genre: YA Fantasy Published: Balzar and Bray, May 2019 My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get exactly what I was expecting going into this book: a very standard, middle of the road YA-fantasy, that is entertaining enough but ultimately adds nothing new to the genre that we haven’t seen a million times before, if not better. That could pretty much be my one sentence review of this book unfortunately.

We follow our two magically inclined protagonists, a face-shifting thief and a prince with the ability to create and travel through portals, on their quest to rebind an ancient magic that wreaking havoc on the kingdom. Add in a Latinex setting, a one dimensional villain, and a lot of elements from different YA books and you get Nocturna. I respect that it is very hard to be wholly original in this day and age where media is so widespread and influential, but when I say it borrows “a lot of elements” from other books, I mean a lot! The main inspiration seems to have been A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, as the similarities are just very hard to overlook. Female heroine Finn is basically a clone of Lila Bard, male hero Alfehr has the same doorknob/portal magic as Kel does, and large parts of the plot play out along pretty much the same beats as ADSOM. Other influences seem to include The Grisha verse by Leigh Bardugo (mainly in the magic system, as well as the heist-parts), Harry Potter (the direct lifting of the vanishing cloak), and some other very well known YA series in lesser parts. Again: I don’t expect every book to be world-shatteringly original, but in this case, the book felt like it just had too little of its own to offer to compensate.

I don’t want to be completely unfair to the book, as it does have some virtues and vices of its own. Let’s start with the former, shall we:

- I do like the magic system presented here, and the way it matches a pivotal occurrence in the characters life/character. For example: Alfie wants to be like his brother, and his propio manifests as the ability to match his magic to that of someone else. Although I do think I’ve seen this before, I still very much like the idea of it, and the way it was used here.

- I actually quite liked the main characters, despite their similarity to those of ADSOM. Unpopular opinion incoming, but I actually didn’t care for the Darker Shade of Magic series, didn’t quite like Kel, and despise Lila as a character. Alfie and Finn somehow were less annoying to me, and their banter felt a little less forced.

Then for the negative:

- Why, of why, book, did you feel the need to fucking shorten the main character’s name to “Alfie”?! Seriously…? I realize how petty this is of me, but during the first chapters it just grinded my gears so bad I couldn’t get into the story. It’s hard for me to get immersed in a Latinex inspired fantasy world, when the main characters name conjures images of a 12-year old pre-teen who probably has a tik-tok following. Seriously: why not just stick to Alfehr?!

- Mild spoiler: What was up with “Voidgirl”? I get Maya Montayne was trying to give her an ARC, but once again: flipping like a leaf does not equal an ARC!

- I’m clearly not the person to speak about the Latinex-representation here, but it did feel rather thin to me, and I’ve heard the same from some own-voice reviewers unfortunately. The thing that was a little iffy to me personally was the use of the Spanish “spells”. Somehow, when you actually speak some Spanish, it ruins the magical feeling a little. Voy literally means “I travel”, which happens to be the only verb that has some accord of grammar for some reason. The other spells are all dictionary verbs reparar (“to repair”), romper (“to break”), parar (“to stop”). This is probably just me being peevish, but still…

In the end, Nocturn feels like a perfectly decent read to pass the time, but unfortunately not one I’ll remember for years and years to come. If you just want a new YA-fantasy, especially with a summery setting to entertain you over the summer break, this is a fine choice. If you’re looking for something wholly original that you’ve never read before, I don’t think you’ll find that here.

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