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ARC Review: Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

Release date: 21 February 2023

Rating 5/5

Synopsis: In this haunting, lyrical fantasy set in 1930s Chicago, a talented ballerina finds herself torn between her dreams and her desires when she's pursued by a secretive patron who may be more than he seems.

Growing up in Chicago’s Little Sicily in the years following the Great War, Grace Dragotta has always wanted to be a ballerina, ever since she first peered through the windows of the Near North Ballet Company. So when Grace is orphaned, she chooses the ballet as her home, imagining herself forever ensconced in a transcendent world of light and beauty so different from her poor, immigrant upbringing.

Years later, with the Great Depression in full swing, Grace has become the company's new prima ballerina—though achieving her long-held dream is not the triumph she once envisioned. Time and familiarity have tarnished that shining vision, and her new position means the loss of her best friend in the world. Then she attracts the attention of the enigmatic Master La Rosa as her personal patron, and realizes the world is not as small or constricted as she had come to fear.

Who is her mysterious patron, and what does he want from her? As Grace begins to unlock the Master's secrets, she discovers that there is beauty in darkness as well as light, finds that true friendship cannot be broken by time or distance, and realizes there may be another way entirely to achieve the transcendence she has always sought.



I picked up Nocturne not quite knowing what to expect; I’ve been let down too many times by promising synopses to get my hopes up any more when it comes to magical books, but Wees’ sophomore fantasy pleased me greatly, especially as it was a follow-up read for me to Heather Fawcett’s Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries, which I absolutely loved (mostly). The prose in Nocturne is magnificent, exactly the type I love and am used to,—my background is 18th- and 19th-century British literature, which can be verbose and ornate—and gives a perfect descriptive type for the story. I feel like folks who love reading classics and thrive on reading descriptive language and long, elegant sentences (i.e., like Dumas, Shelley, Tolstoy, Hugo, García Márquez, etc.) would take to this book with a feverish ferocity.

Our story resembles many different fairy tales and myths; including Hades and Persephone, Beauty and the Beast, and Phantom of the Opera and fits them all very well while spinning its own unique narrative. It is mysterious, romantic, dark, and enchanting. Grace Dragotta, an Italian immigrant living on her own and making her own way through her skills as a ballerina, leads a great cast of characters. She is graceful, independent, and kind all while maintaining a sense of dignity and self-realization that serves her well when she meets her patron, Master La Rosa, a mysterious character whom we don’t know anything about. Those who are good a pegging mysteries will guess his role before the end. The beauty of the story is, once a readers realize who Master La Rosa is, there is no drag on the plot. It gets even better from there.

Nocturne is another short adult fantasy read (228 pages) that seems to contribute to what is becoming the norm in adult fantasy romance. Along with Fawcett’s Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries and Chokshi’s The Last Tale of the Flower Bride, these three seem to extend what I feel has become a trend beginning prominently somewhere in the latter half of 2022 of 300-pages-or-fewer books (never mind that Kingfisher and Ishiguro, among many others, have been doing it for a while now). While I’m okay with seeing some short, dense fantasies, I’m not so excited to see the price tag that accompanies adult books, either, especially when they’re the selection for pricey book boxes. Nevertheless, I really hope it’s a selection for a book box with a hand signature, a beautiful, digital edge, and lots of other customizations that make the outside just as beautiful as the inside.

Other than the short length of the book and the cover art, I can’t find anything wrong with the book. I loved absolutely everything about it and wholeheartedly rate it 5 stars.

My thanks to DelRey for the review copy, for which I willingly give my own, honest opinion.

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