Title: The Light of the Midnight Stars
Author: Rena Rossner
Publication date: April 13, 2021
Length: 432 pages
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
An evocative combination of fantasy, history, and Jewish folklore, The Light of the Midnight Stars is fairytale-inspired novel from the author of The Sisters of the Winter Wood.
Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they pray, sing and perform small miracles – and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. Each one is blessed with a unique talent – whether it be coaxing plants to grow, or predicting the future by reading the path of the stars.
When a fateful decision to help an outsider ends in an accusation of witchcraft, fire blazes through their village. Rabbi Isaac and his family are forced to flee, to abandon their magic and settle into a new way of life. But a dark fog is making its way across Europe and will, in the end, reach even those who thought they could run from it. Each of the sisters will have to make a choice – and change the future of their family forever.
I so wanted to love this book, but unfortunately, it just didn’t work out that way.
In The Light of the Midnight Stars, we meet a devout Jewish family living in the village of Trnava in the 14th century. The family has three daughters — Hannah, Sarah, and Levana — and each has her own special gifts. Their father is a Rabbi and a practitioner of ancient magics handed down through King Solomon’s descendants. This magic protects the community, yet as an ominous black mist intrudes on the village and the surrounding areas, the Jewish community’s gifts raise suspicion and anger among their neighbors.
Told through the perspectives of the three daughters, we learn about each girl’s gift, her frustrations and challenges, and see them each find (and lose) love in different ways. When the family is forced to flee after a tragedy, they finally emerge from a journey through the deep woods and start a new life in a new land, posing as simple village folk, hiding their Jewish heritage and powers.
While there are some lovely moments of magic and some beautiful descriptions of the natural world, the overall storyline is convoluted and overstuffed. In the author’s notes at the end, she discusses being influenced by family stories, folktales, fairy tales, medieval history, and more. It’s too much — the book has a “kitchen sink” feel, as in, everything was included, nothing left out but the kitchen sink.
At various slower-moving points, I was sorely tempted to DNF, but then I’d come across a particularly moving or interesting chapter, and hoped that I’d reached a turning point. As I said earlier, there are some especially good moments and some truly tragic, heartbreaking events — but there is also way too much symbolism, allegory, and magical flights of fancy for my taste, and as a result, I couldn’t completely invest in the story.
It’s too bad. I loved the author’s previous novel, The Sisters of the Winter Wood, and had such high hopes for this one. I did enjoy the characters of the sisters (well, mostly the two older sisters — the youngest one just confused me), but overall, the book just didn’t gel into one coherent story and followed too many wandering tangents for me to really love it.
The author is clearly quite gifted and has a terrific imagination, so I won’t give up — I’ll definitely keep an eye out for her future books.