Nocturne by Alyssa Wees – Review

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.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Random House for this eARC of what can only be described as an aria in book form. The blurb promises a lyrical fantasy– and it fantastically delivers with prose that will take your breath away and send you into Chicago in the midst of the Great Depression. It is a retelling of stories like Beauty and the Beast and Phantom of the Opera, but it holds so much historical significance– especially in the first chunk of the novel– that it feels like something that could have actually occurred instead of being firmly rooted in an imaginary world.

We meet Grace Dragotta, one dancer in a sea of other pointed toes, as she receives news that those days will be far behind her. She has been chosen as the company’s prima ballerina, which has been her lifelong dream. Grace was orphaned when a plague took her family, and she had been living at the Near North Ballet Company ever since. Her life is turned upside down when she attracts the attention of a patron named Master LaRosa, who invites her to live with him at his mansion. In return for being housed and clothed and otherwise cared for– she is expected only to waltz with him every Sunday at midnight. Grace longs for freedom, but the magic her benefactor provides gives her pause. Should she give up on who she is for what someone wants her to be?

I feel like there is so much in Grace that will speak to readers and inspire them. I know I personally found a light within her tenacity. She acknowledged that she was scared all throughout her life– but that she made the decisions that got her to where she is anyway. Her family died, and she found her way to the ballet. She was given up as a gift to a wealthy man, and she made the most of it. Grace’s journey of finding herself is interlaced with an escape from the cold and deadly Chicago streets into a gateway into the land of the dead where loved ones can be reconnected with and the boon of life brought into focus. This is a beautiful story that will leave you breathless– and I recommend it to all of those with the beat of their own drum inside of their heart.

5/5 stars