Hope your week is going well!
This week I opened up Nocturne by Alyssa Wees, a gift granted to me by the publishers Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine and Del Rey via NetGalley. I know absolutely nothing about ballerina-ing (that’s a word right?), but I loved the summary of this book so I decided to wish for it.
My wish was granted and I received a free copy of the book. The review below is reflective of my honest and voluntary opinions.
Publication Date: February 21, 2023
In this haunting, evocative 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.
“An enchanting and lyrical fever dream bursting with dazzling prose and dark romance, Nocturne enthralled me.”—Erin A. Craig, New York Times bestselling author of House of Salt and Sorrows
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.
What I liked about the book:
1. That cover is gorgeous. Something about it is breathtakingly haunting and so avant-garde that I knew I was hooked after seeing it.
2. Overall, I liked the idea behind this story. I don’t want to spoil too much, but this definitely had a mythological feel to it, which I was absolutely crazy for! I love stories within stories and the worldbuilding that goes into fantasy-laden stories is usually so interesting to me. This was no exception.
3. Overall, I did enjoy the lyrical writing style the author employed. There were A LOT of descriptors used on the simplest of things. If done right, I absolutely love this approach. To me, it’s why I love Orwell and Bradbury: taking a simple thought or topic and strangling words out of it until you feel every word connecting you to the story; as though every word breathes fresh energy into you. However, if done wrong, it just feels exhausting.
I see a lot of reviews for this book with this as a critique. To me, I did not mind, and even enjoyed, the writing style. What I did not enjoy was waiting so long to understand where those beautiful words were taking me (see item 1 in the “What could have been better” section).
What could have been better:
1. What at times was reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera, and Hades and Persephone, somehow managed to feel uneventful. I was waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen, for some big reveal to come, for the other ballet slipper to drop, and it didn’t really do it for me when it did. Instead of being a large *BANG!* of excitement, the “reveal” was a slow *fizzzzzzzle*. It was pretty easy to figure out early on what it was going to be, but then it wasn’t really satisfactorily done in my opinion.
On top of this, I felt like the main story didn’t really take off until about 55-60% of the way through the book. I swore when we were this deep into the story and she had just started meeting the other MCs, that this was going to be a duology. So, of course, I stopped reading and scoured Goodreads and the author’s website to see when the next book was going to come out. End result: this isn’t a duology, it just wasn’t set up well. With all the fluff in the front of the book and the meat of the book not really happening until the last half, it was hard to become attached to any of the characters or the plot.
2. My biggest gripe was the character development. Bottom-line, there wasn’t any for 2 of the 3 main characters. For a book praised as a “dark romance” and a “lush gothic romance that will dance you dizzy”, I found exactly zero romance in this thing, which makes sense when you realize the author only expands on one character for the entire book.
Furthermore, I did not feel a connection to the main character, Grace. She wasn’t annoyingly perfect or relatedly flawed; she wasn’t over the top silly or fiery fierce. She just was, which I found a bit boring for a main character that acted as really the sole character for such a large amount of the book.
3. As much as I loved the mythological feel, I didn’t feel like we got enough backstory into it. I would much rather have focused on the deal between the brothers and who they were as characters, than read over and over again how this chick wanted to jump out of a window.
Final Rating: 2.5 stars