¡Dios Mío! What a Debut!: “Nocturna” by Maya Motayne Review

Nocturna by Maya Motayne
Official Summary

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.

My Thoughts

Out of all the books this year, this was one of my most anticipated. A Latin-inspired fantasy about a thief with faceshifting powers? A prince messing with dark magic? An absolutely stunning cover? Everything about this book seemed right up my alley.

But when I started it, I felt let down. It wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Maybe this book was going to be a huge disappointment. However, as I read on, I grew to really enjoy this book. Once the characters were thrown into danger, I realized how much I cared about them. So, while this book isn’t perfect, it did find its way into my heart.

Admittedly, I found some of Alfie’s internal monologue to be repetitive. He seems to constantly cycle between feeling inadequate and his fear of his vengeful side. But that didn’t stop him from quickly becoming my favorite character. He’s just so genuine and wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s got this determination and do-gooder soul that should drive me crazy, but comes across as wholesome. I love him and would die for him.

Finn had to grow on me, but grow she did. She’s not just a badass bitch who don’t need no man. She has deep scars and trauma she’s running from, hurts in her past that made her this way. She’s able to be brash and sarcastic, while also being cunning and real. Her character development is the most beautiful part of this book.

The two complement each other really well, making for a great duo. They don’t have a romance, mainly staying within the realm of reluctant allies and friendship. It’s clear they start to develop feelings for each other, but this isn’t something that takes focus. Their romance will likely form later in the series.

The plot is thrilling, always keeping the reader on their toes. I found myself saying “Just one more chapter” over and over again. The main catalyst for the bulk of the plot is kind of contrived, but nothing that takes away from the rest of the story in any meaningful way.

The world-building and magic system are phenomenal. Everyone has elemental magic, but some have a special personalized ability called a propio. There’s also different spells one can learn for things like traveling, opening doors, and more. But it never feels confusing. Motayne sets up the rules of her magic and world very clearly.

Thematically, this story tackles identity, loss, vengeance, and family. And I love the way it goes about each one. What makes a person who they are? How do we handle grief? When is vengeance justified and when does it cross a line? What makes a family? All these questions are answered through the characters’ journeys.

Obviously, being a Latin-inspired story, this novel is full of diversity. All the characters are Latino. Luka, Alfie’s best friend, is gay (and it’s a total non-issue). Alfie and Finn both experience panic attacks, implying they deal with mental health issues. Even better, Nocturna is OwnVoices.

If you’re a fan of Shades of Magic by V.E. Schwab, you might recognize some familiar beats in this story. But Nocturna isn’t a mere copy. Motayne takes similar ideas and spins them in her own unique ways. If anything, reminding readers of Shades of Magic is a point in its favor.

Nocturna isn’t perfect. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m being a bit generous because of how it made me feel. But you know what? Feelings are perfectly valid to take into consideration when rating a book. Besides, this was still an impressive debut. If this is the kind of magic Motayne forges when she writes, then I’ll be a lifelong reader.

Trigger Warnings

Body horror and emotional abuse by a parental figure

My Rating


Have you read Nocturna? What did you think? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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5 thoughts on “¡Dios Mío! What a Debut!: “Nocturna” by Maya Motayne Review

  1. I hadn’t planned on reading this book myself, but hearing it’s Latinx-inspired makes me curious now. Your critiques are totally valid, though like you say, how it makes you feel is honestly what matters more. 🙂 Great review! Glad this book grew on you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this review! I have seen lots of reviews bashing this book for ‘ripping off’ A Darker Shade of Magic, but I completely agree with you – just because someone else has done something similar doesn’t mean that nobody else can and it’s the way a book makes you feel that is important. A book can be flawed but still loved!


      1. I was really glad to see you talk about that! I read it and enjoyed it but so many people just seemed to be calling it a ‘rip-off’, when I feel that it has originality too.


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