Nocturne by Alyssa Wees

My Rating: 4 stars

Many thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the ARC. This book was released on February 21 2023 and is now available for purchase.

I went into Nocturne expecting a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera. There are aspects of that story, and there are also aspects of “Beauty and the Beast” and “Death and the Maiden.” However, Wees has created an entirely unique story that surpassed my expectations and even managed to surprise me. When Grace Dragotta is chosen as the new prima ballerina of the Near North Ballet Company, she believes it is because of her skill and hard work. In truth, she has been specifically chosen by a mysterious patron, Master La Rosa, who insists she come live at his mirror-filled house and dance with him every Sunday at midnight. As time passes, she begins to learn the Master’s secrets and is introduced to the city of Noctem, where the souls of the dead gather. Grace is left with a choice: marry the Master and become the queen of Noctem or continue on with her life that has brought mostly hardship and sorrow. As I said, Wees managed to surprise me with the ending. I’m not going to give anything away, of course, but just know that this doesn’t go how you think it will.

Wees is a very lyrical writer, which will work for some people and not for others. For me personally, it worked quite well. Lush descriptions and metaphors always pair well with stories about music and dance in my opinion. It contributes to the fairy tale feel Wees is clearly going for and just creates a rich and beautiful reading experience. There were some times I got a bit lost in her language and lost the thread of what as actually happening, but those were few and far between.

My only complaint is that Grace doesn’t have much of a personality. She definitely has a history, which is one part of a fascinating character. I enjoyed learning about her life before the ballet company, and the tragic backstory certainly made me feel for her. Her backstory also suggests a personality that I ultimately felt we didn’t get to see in the main story. This girl survived by herself on the streets, playing her violin for money. She forced herself into a ballet company and trained hard to become just as good as girls who had been dancing their whole lives. All of this suggests she’s a fighter, but that isn’t reflected in her interactions with the Master. She gives in to everything so easily, and I would have liked to see more of the strength and will suggested by her backstory. It does come out at the very end, but that didn’t feel like enough for me.

Overall, Nocturne is a lyrical fantasy that blends music and fairy tales to create a beautiful story. While I wanted a little more from the main character, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it for fans of S. Jae-Jones’s Wintersong.

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