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Nocturna

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Nocturna Book Poster Image
Violent Latinx fantasy has magic but falls flat in places.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Various words in Spanish aren't translated but most have context clues.

Positive Messages

As humans, we all have good and bad in us; you can choose to do what's right without running away or trying to hide from negative impulses. It's never too late to change for the better, no matter how much you've done wrong in the past. A few discussions about how a past conquering nation suppressed the main characters' cultural identity, the ramifications of that, and about rebuilding and rediscovering the past culture after a rebellion ousted the conquerors.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The two main characters are flawed and deal with both good and bad impulses, actions, and emotions. Alfie learns that who he is when he's angry is a part of himself that he can't deny or run from, and that helps him become able to make better choices about what to do when he does feel angry. Finn learns that sharing her faults and scars from the past with someone who's understanding also shares the burden of carrying those faults and makes them easier to bear. Strong representation of Latinx culture in a fantasy world that has lots of Spanish or derived-from-Spanish vocabulary and names.

Violence

Mostly fantasy violence from magical powers and fantasy creatures. Fighting includes descriptions of some gore, sounds of breaking bones, strangling, decapitation, beatings, evisceration, snapping necks, and more. Injuries and pain are described, sometimes in detail. Lots of blood is mentioned and described with some detail, like an entire pub awash with blood, or blood gushing, pooling, pouring, seeping, etc. A character is the victim of psychological abuse, with physical abuse hinted at. A character learns how to manage violent impulses when he's angry. A few instances of verbal hostility and abuse.

Sex

A couple of matter-of-fact mentions of same-sex relationships. Brief romantic feelings as emotional attachment deepens.

Language

"S--t," "bullsh--t," "hell," "maldito," "pendejo," "go screw yourself," "piss off," "coño," "gods damn it," and sexual innuendo using "prick." Some verbal hostility and abuse.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character carries a flask and drinks tequila heavily to suppress emotions. Another teen or young-adult character frequently drinks to excess. Tequila and sangria frequently mentioned at social occasions or in taverns. Brief mention of wine and spiced rum. Poison used a couple of times, as is a magical healing potion that gives a burst of energy.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nocturna is a magical fantasy with a strong Latinx influence from some of the names and a lot of Spanish or Spanish-derived vocabulary words. There's a lot of fantasy violence that includes some gore and descriptions of blood, injuries, and pain. One of the two main characters is the victim of psychological abuse, with hints of physical abuse as well. Strong language in both English and Spanish includes "s--t," "pendejo" (stupid or a--hole), "coño" (damn or hell, and in Spain, p---y), and "maldito" (damn or damned). Very little sexual content, just a couple of mentions of a same-sex relationship and some romantic thoughts in a relationship as the emotional connection deepens. A couple of charcters drink heavily, one of them frequently to excess. Tequila, sangria, wine, and spiced rum are mentioned, usually at parties and taverns. Positive messages about accepting both the good and bad in yourself, learning to share your burdens, and that it's never too late to start making better choices no matter how much bad you've done in the past.

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What's the story?

In NOCTURNA, Prince Alfehr (Alfie to his friends and heir to the kingdom of Castallan) strikes a bargain with a mysterious power to save his best-friend's life. That bargain unleashes a dark magic strong enough to destroy the entire world. Too afraid to tell anyone what he's done, Alfie sets out to contain and destroy the dark power himself. But not alone. Along the way he enlists the help of a thief with her own dark past, one that binds her to the newly awakened darkness. Hel'll also need the help of the one responsible for his brother's death, if he can confront her without exacting revenge, that is.

Is it any good?

Author Maya Motayne's debut novel shows promise, especially when it comes to magical action and building to an exciting finish, but some areas unfortunately fall flat or quickly become tiresome. The storytelling itself and the map of the world make it hard to avoid thinking of equivalents in the real world (OK, so Castallan is South America, and Englass is ...) that take away from a sense of originality. And having characters use the word "maldito" over and over isn't a very effective way to inject Latinx flavor into the story.

That being said, Motayne has created a vast, deep, and believable world. She skillfully explores the abusive relationship between Finn and Ignacio, which is a good place to start talking about how and why others have so much power over how we see ourselves. Fantasy fans who can handle some gore and intense fantasy violence will enjoy the suspense leading up to the final confrontation; the strong, positive Latinx representation; and the bittersweet developments.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Nocturna. Does it make a difference if it's fantasy or real-life violence? Is reading it different than seeing it on videos, in movies, etc.?

  • Is there a difference between Alfie's and Luka's drinking habits? Are one or both of them alcoholic? Why, or why not? Are there any consequences for their drinking? What are the real consequences of alcohol use and abuse?

  • Why is it important for media like books, videos, movies, and games to represent a variety of cultures and viewpoints? How do you feel when you read about or see people like yourself in these media? And when you don't?

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