Book Review: Noctura (A Forgery of Magic #1)

Title: Nocturna ( A Forgery of Magic #1)

Author: Maya Motayne

Genres:  Fantasy

Pages: 480

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Review Copy: Purchased

Availability: Available now

Summary: 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. 

Review: At YallWest, Maya Motayne was on a panel titled “Stranger Danger, Killer Characters” and spoke about her debut novel. Needless to say I was very intrigued. Nocturna was not on my review list, but after hearing Motayne talk about the story, her characters, especially Finn, I changed my mind and ran out to buy a copy. I am so glad I did and when you do, so will you.

Before I get into how much I loved the characters, I have to give Motayne huge props for making a villain that is truly disturbing in the most unique way. Imagine learning that all the scary monsters from our childhood tales were true, what would you do? That is exactly what Finn and Alfie learn when they, or rather Alfie, in a moment of desperation, awakens a dark evil magic that was once part of a god. The god’s story is stuff of legend now and most don’t believe it’s true, hence when Finn and Alfie realize what they are up against, they really have no way to fight against it as there is no true written record of it. Which brings me to another deeper theme in Nocturna – the effect of colonization. The people of Castallan had been colonized by a neighboring country who destroyed their early written and verbal language and enslaved them and their magic (hmmm, sounds familiar, without the magic part that is). The Castallano people eventually revolted and were able to establish their own country, and Nocturna takes place centuries after the fact, however, the country is still feeling the effects of that colonization which is why Finn and Alfie have no record to rely to help them defeat the ancient power. This theme resonated with me so deeply that I, as a descendent of slaves, do not know my mother tongue.  I am also aware that Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs, was almost lost due to the Spanish colonization of Mexico, but is starting to be spoken again as their descendants are taking back their language. I feel like this theme will resonate deeply with any who are descendants of colonized people and their struggle to maintain their cultural identity.

There is so much more I could talk about this novel and how it throws away many fantasy tropes. Men and women are equal in this world as both hold various positions of power, there is no stigma against fighting a woman (Finn and Alfie’s first fight against each other is brutal), and the “hero’s journey” that both Finn and Alfie go on is equal in every way. Both are fighting their own inner demons in addition to the very real ancient evil they are trying to stop. Their budding relationship allows them to learn from each other, soften each other, and most importantly, working together as a team. I truly enjoyed “watching” them grow together and as individuals.

Noctura was also so fully Latinx, and didn’t do an ounce of explaining. The characters speak in Spanglish (which hear on the regular teaching at a school that is 90% Hispanic/Latino) and therefore understood as I was reading. In addition there are so many cultural Latinx references that if one doesn’t know, they will surely learn and if one does know will enjoy looking in the mirror. My favorite was when an actual chancla was thrown…I was laughing so hard. I could imagine my students relating so hard to Finn and Alfie in that moment and loved that my students clearly would be able to see themselves in this book, see themselves as the hero in a fantasy novel.