Oculta by Maya Motayne (The Nocturna Trilogy #2)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Epic Reads)
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Cover Artist: Mark van Leeuwen
Summary: After joining forces to save Castallan from an ancient magical evil, Alfie and Finn haven’t seen each other in months. Alfie is finally ready to take on the mantle of crown prince. His first task: preparing for the peace talks with Castallan’s former colonizers, the nation of Englass.
But when the summit coincides with the reemergence of Los Toros, the mysterious syndicate of assassins responsible for Alfie’s brother’s death, and Finn’s unexpected installation as one of the four Thief Lords of Castallan, the two must reunite to discover the hidden link between these events—before it’s too late.
My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½
Oculta succeeds as a sequel in so many ways! Not only does it dive deep into the idea of legacy, but also balances it’s page-turning story among the politics and intrigue, while wasting no time to elaborate even more on the unique magic system. But the foundation of the story really is about Alfie and Finn’s own personal journeys, including their own relationship throughout this intense continuation.
If you didn’t know, Nocturna is such a special YA for me because its one of the first Latine epic fantasy series I’d ever read! Seeing Latinx (specifically Dominican) culture represented in this genre means so much to me, also as an aspiring writer myself. I fell in love with Alfie and Finn’s journey, which although ends on a bittersweet note I without a doubt, was eagerly awaiting their reunion. Now 2 years later, the sequel is finally here and wow are there a myriad of thoughts to share!
Set about 4 months after the end of Nocturna, Prince Alfie is taking on more responsibility as the future king and attempting to atone for his mistakes and the effects Sombra’s magic left on many of Castallan’s people. Feeling a guilt weigh heavy on him, he attempts to live up to his brother’ Dez’s legacy as he’s also grappling with his own dilemma: trying to reconnect with his magic again as it’s slowly begun to reject him.
On the other hand, Face-changing thief Finn has been traveling and spending time away from San Cristobal. But when a mysterious organization attacks her, she quickly finds her way back to Castallan to warn Alfie. She also finds herself with a new position as Thief Lord, bringing her both annoyance and help along the way when Los Toros resurface, threatening the international Peace Summit between Castallan and Englass. Soon, Alfie and Finn are once again reunited to solve the case before its too late, especially as Los Toros begin assassinating and instilling fear across San Cristobal!
This is a sequel that not only captivated me as it showed Motayne’s strength as a writer as she tied together so many elements to her fantasy world, but also showed how those layers build on each other in such impactful ways. One of those ways is how the Peace Summit allows for us to get an even deeper look into the setting we were just introduced to in book one. Not just the Dominican-inspired setting, but the magic system, the inner politics of the royals and Castallans’ people, each of these and much more are taken to new heights through the brilliant plotting and structure of the novel.
The plot is such a page-turner! As Alfie and Finn are attempting to piece together the mystery I loved how the story unfolded, how personal each POV felt and just being immersed in this magical world again! The writing shows the humor, secrecy, adventure, and intrigue that build across every chapter. This book is in one word: Cinematic. Not once did I ever feel pulled out of the story, each roadblock or question our trio encounters leads from one adventure to the next as they try to figure out why Los Toros are so preoccupied with the summit. It not delves into themes of legacy, family, but also destiny in a way and
Having followed Alfie and Finn on their journey through Nocturna to now seeing that they’ve spent time apart up until their reunion (which had me sobbing), we understand they are now cemented into the roles they’ve been growing into their whole lives. However, despite their duties pulling them in opposite directions, there’s something keeping them together and while I won’t spoil, the way Motayne establishes their dynamic (slowburn romance) and GROWTH is so exceptionally crafted. There’s a roughness to our witty thief Finn and she learns throughout this novel to confront her feelings, as does Alfie. Alfie and Finn deserve the biggest hugs after this book tbh…one of the highlights was seeing them face their vulnerabilities along the way.
The magic of Propios expands a bit as well, which is super fun and for me, was unexpected. I like how Motayne showed the magic system evolve overtime through the use of Finn’s face-changing abilities. Showing the evolution to her own powers, in a way, symbolized her struggle with trying to keep Ignacio’s ghost out of her head while attempting to avoid going down a similar path, the more her magic grew. Finn’s arc is truly about her overcoming trauma and yet she’s still her snarky, comedic self, I loved that being a thing at every moment of her journey.
Now we cannot forget Luka, Alfie’s cousin who is undergoing his own arc in this story as well. Feeling a deep sense of survivor’s guilt following Sombra’s attacks, he has his own secrets too, but despite it he and Alfie learn to build their dynamic even more, counting on each other to be by their side. The addition of his POV was such a brilliant move for this story! We already know so much about him, but I liked getting into the more hidden depths of his character.
Aside from characters, the other biggest strength of this novel lies in the worldbuilding. Because we are already familiar with the city’s rings, the various quests around San Cristobal cements you into the setting that much more because we as readers are transported to different pockets of the city, making it that much more immersive. With the Summit well underway as Alfie is balancing the various events throughout the week while also traveling across the city with Finn and Luka, there’s lots of opportunity for us to dig deeper into the setting and see it come to life. As Finn tries to find more clues as well when the Toros assassinations begin too, we see how both sides paint a clearer picture to the social divide between the city’s rings.
What Oculta also does which is unique for YA Fantasy is how it tackles conversation around colonization and the consequences of it since its established in the first book that Castallan was colonized in the past. With Castallan’s magic being influenced by language, it shows the important stakes of the summit since Englass still uses a caste system to block certain people from their magic based on status. The discussions around colonization, even systematic oppression are given a lot of focus, especially seen from Alfie’s POV as he and his family try to establish conversation with the Englass royals.
There’s also quite a few new characters too from the introduction of Rodrigo, Emeraude, and Elian, Thief Lords just like Finn. Including the Englass royals such as Prince Marsden, Princess Vesper and a servant named James who befriends Luka and the others along the way. There’s lots of new characters and *secrets along the way!
Some of my favorite scenes include the various events of the Summit (it was such a creative plot point), honestly any scene with Alfie and Finn together, the Alfie, Finn, and Luka trio, the adventures around the city, basically the whole plot. This sequel was SO FANTASTIC! Not only is it the world, but its our main characters, their vibrant personalities and meaningful journeys that make this book an impactful read from beginning to end. I fell in love with these characters even more, if that’s even possible?? The ending is just, WOW I need book 3 how will I wait??
The only reason I’m being so vague in this review is because its a sequel and I think its best to experience this amazing read for yourself. But let me just say this is a phenomenal continuation to the series, so if you love these characters and the world, the magic, and adventure, it gets even better here! It ends as a great sequel should, leaving you wanting to know what happens next.
Oculta succeeds as a political, character-driven sequel in the Nocturna trilogy! With its fantastic storytelling, further development to the world and magic system, in addition to the heart-wrenching journeys of our cast. Filled to the brim with intrigue, adventure, captivating plot threads that will leave you wanting to know more, this is a truly brilliant read!