Book Review: Nocturna
(A Forgery of Magic #1)
Written by Maya Montayne
Published by Hodder and Stoughton
Publication date: 2nd May 2019
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
A prince always comes home. Alfie’s mother had told him that when he’d boarded his ship three months ago, leaving San Cristobal behind to be swallowed by the horizon.
And now, as the same ship eased back into the port it had departed from, Alfie’s shadow gathered around his feet in a tight spiral of nerves. He was home.
The rings of the capital city bloomed before him, from the slouching taverns that braced against the sea breeze in the Pinch to the stately haciendas with stained glass windows and sloped adobe roofs deeper inland in the Bow. Mountains swelled in the far distance. If he squinted, he could spot the surrounding sugarcane fields, swaying in the breeze and ripe for harvest. And, of course, rising against the horizon like a second sun was the palace.
Alfie’s fingers curled tight around the railing of the ship, the flap of the scarlet sails quieting around him as the crew readied to dock. The shops and taverns of the port were lined with lanterns enchanted to burn all night long to welcome incoming sailors.
Even after everything that had happened, the city was so strangely unchanged. But that was the trick of home, he supposed. It stayed the same even when you didn’t.
Alfie wanted nothing more than to shout for the captain to head back to open sea. His pounding heart urged him to sail away and not let his feet touch the ground of this place.
First impressions: I wanted to read this as soon as I spotted it on Netgalley – the cover is gorgeous, it is fantasy which I love, it is LatinX-inspired which sounds refreshing and it features a snarky thief (one of my favourite character tropes).
I went into this expecting to love it and I really did…despite the fact that this book seems to have garnered quite a lot of negative reviews since publication.
Therefore, I seem to be going against the popular opinion but I really loved this!
The story started off strongly with lots of interesting bits of information about the Latinx-inspired world this is set in. However, due to the pace of the action (everything in this book takes place over just a few days), the world-building drops off completely in the second half, which means that the second book will have a lot of expansion to do to make this fantasy world believable. I was fascinated by the little snippets I did see though so I am happy to go back for more!
The past conflict, colonization and siphoning of magic by the neighbouring country has lots of potential so I am excited to see where it goes next.
I liked the characters, although I feel like they weren’t described very clearly at times. E.g. I know that Alfie had golden eyes because Finn seemed to describe them every time she looked at home, but other than that I’m not very sure of many distinguishing features.
I also liked how the romance developed in what felt like a natural way. Even though the characters have only known each other for a few days, they are thrown into dangerous situations which tend to build connections quickly. Yet, it wasn’t unnecessarily demonstrative and didn’t cross the line into insta-love.
Alfie is an interesting main character, especially as we are introduced to him as he is self-medicating with tequila due to feeling responsible for not saving his older brother, who was sucked into a void and is presumed dead. The reluctant royal is not a new character trope but I liked how Alfie is seen as physically quite weak, almost effeminate and how the fortune-teller being unable to see his future has led to him feeling entirely unsuitable to be a future king. Despite the ‘reluctant royal’ being a stereotype, his privilege is challenged by those around him and he begins to realise just how lucky he has been, even though it’s not his ideal.
Our second main character is Finn, a thief with the ability to change faces and a troubled past. I liked her immediately, again enjoying how the ‘snarky thief’ stereotype was gently subverted with her being built quite heavily and her psychological scars having a real effect on her current behaviour. At times, she reminded me of Lila Bard from The Darker Shade of Magic series…and this is where a lot of criticism has appeared from other reviewers.
Yes, the main characters in this story feature a reluctant royal, his brother figure (actually a cousin) and a tough-as-nails thief. Yes, the story features dark magic escaping and infecting others. However, just because these character tropes and storylines have been used in other books and by very popular authors does not mean that they are off-limits for all others. I loved The Darker Shade of Magic trilogy and I loved this book too. I love a lot of fantasy books even though I have read about certain characters and certain storylines numerous times.
Overall, I really enjoyed this and I think it is worth giving a try if you enjoy fantasy books, despite the many negative reviews that have appeared!
The woman Finn was stalking through the Bow was clearly running late. Late was good. Late meant she would be too busy rushing to look up and notice Finn jumping lithely from rooftop to rooftop to keep pace with her.
The haciendas here were stately and grand with gently sloped roofs, perfect for hopping from one to the next. Though each estate was nearly six men high, years of filling in for acrobats in the circuses she’d worked in had stripped her of any fear of heights. If she’d ever had it to begin with.
The warm breeze whistling through her curly hair as she hopped from roof to roof, the patter of her footsteps, and the rustle of her bag against her side were the only sounds tonight. The cobbled streets were empty and the colorful haciendas were silent, their occupants asleep.
Even the name of this ring of the city made her roll her eyes. The Bow. Something gossamer and cute to fasten around the neck of a kitten. The name suited it, with its delicately built haciendas, manicured gardens, and burbling fountains. There was a quiet calm in the Bow that made Finn itch. A kind of calm afforded by those who were born rich and would die richer.
Finn preferred the Pinch and the Bash.
Sure, they were dirtier , cramped, and at any given moment you were seconds away from being pickpocketed, but they would still be bursting with life at this hour.
Right now there would be street performers strumming languid bachatas on their guitars and food vendors hawking bowls of beans and adobo -spiced rice and fried, sweet plantains. Her stomach growled at the thought , but Finn forced herself to focus on the task at hand.
She needed to take this woman’s place at the game, get the goods, and pawn them off. Then she’d have money for a full belly and a ticket onto the next ship out of here and onto her next adventure.
What I liked: The way the character’s shadows show their psychological state, the various ‘proprio’ (unique magical skills), the Latinx-inspired culture, the development of the romance, Alfie and Luka’s relationship (although Luka stayed cold for too long). I liked that this read as a stand-alone even though it is the first in a planned series. Ignacio is a terrifying antagonist. Alfie’s parents (The King and Queen) are both present and effective parents.
Even better if: The way that the insanely powerful dark magic was released was a little contrived. One very small decision changing could have meant that the events of this book would not have happened at all.
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great addition to any library that stocks fantasy, especially as it represents a LatinX culture which is not commonly seen in fantasy books. I wouldn’t use this as a class text but ti would be a rip-roaring read for anyone who wants a bit of adventure and magic!
Teacher/Parental note: There is some swearing (in Spanish and English)
(Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton and Netgalley for my e-ARC)
What did other people think?
Mandy @DevouringBooks said:
“Nocturna is filled with heists, magic and a battle between good and evil. It was so great that I can’t believe it almost slipped right past my radar.”
Shalini @BookRambler said:
“I recommend this book if you love fantasy and looking for diversity.”
Olivia @TheCandidCover said:
“Nocturna is a gripping story of unlikely partners and dark magic. I found the concept unique, and the main characters are believable. The magic system is one aspect I particularly enjoyed as well as Finn’s humorous tone. I would definitely recommend this one to fantasy fans.”
Thanks for reading!