The early story captured my attention with ballet, an orphan's struggles, and Depression-era Chicago, but once Nocturne shifted into dark fantasy I didn't feel connected.
In Alyssa Wees's slim (it's 240 pages) fantasy novel Nocturne, set in the Little Italy of 1930s Chicago, promising young dancer Grace dreams of becoming a prima ballerina.
As the Depression rages, orphaned Italian immigrant Grace rises through the ranks of the Near North Ballet Company--losing friends, becoming more jaded, and ultimately gaining a valuable, secretive benefactor who may be the key to her job security--but he may not be what he seems.
Grace is faced with compromises and tradeoffs, and she must decide where her own loyalties lie and determine how far she's willing to go to keep hold of her long-held dream.
I felt connected to Wees's story through Grace's early struggles, her sole real connection, to friend Emilia, and her ballet training and performances. The understated dark undercurrents felt powerful and mysterious.
But once the fantasy elements became the focus, the story felt more like a series of ethereal concepts to me. The predator-prey, death-and-life, constricting-and-controlled scenario is orchestrated by an evasive, sinister, and, I felt, annoying man (every Sunday night Grace is forced into a dance and some evasive conversation, and meanwhile she must wait around all week for this?). The story began to feel more juvenile in tone to me as it evolved into a twisted fairy tale, which I often enjoy.
Grace's benefactor, who barely speaks, seeks to control her, and has professed his romantic interest in her, has been watching and fixating on her since her childhood (ugh), yet this predatorial scenario is made out to feel more romantic than a horror.
As Nocturne became less anchored in emotions and motivations that I could grasp, I lost my connection to Grace. There are twists, and I enjoyed Grace's strong stand at the end, but by that point I had lost my feeling of investment in her story.
I received a prepublication edition of this book courtesy of NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group, and Ballantine.
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Alyssa Wees is also the author of The Waking Forest.
You can check out my Bossy reviews of other fantasy titles here.