Have you ever experienced a reading moment where you read an author’s debut book and you love it so much that you HAVE to read everything else that they put out? Yes.
Well that is exactly what happened with me and Rena Rossner. After falling in love with The Sisters of the Winter Wood, I was so excited to find out she was releasing another historical fantasy book based in Jewish folklore!
May is Jewish Heritage Month and Rena’s books are definitely deserving of your attention!
Many thanks to HBG Canada for providing me with an ARC!
The Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner
Pub Date: April 13th, 2021
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 was promised a fairy tale like feel and I got exactly that. This book was incredibly magical in that atmospheric way where every turn of page just ups the enchantment! But like any good fairy tale it was both warm and enticing but dark and dangerous in the corners. I really enjoyed how the historical setting and mythology worked together to create this beautiful story about family and faith.
As for the characters, I am always a sucker for a trio of sisters! Woohoo! And I am glad to report that I liked these sisters very much! Obviously I attached myself to the youngest (how could I not) but all in all I really enjoyed how sisterhood was portrayed in this book. It is not always sunshine and rainbows. There are some bumpy roads and distances to bridge even between the closest of sisters. I liked that they each had a distinct personality, a distinct voice and individual story line that still blended so well with the others. I was a little wary about how young they were, but I had to constantly remind myself that the time period this book was set in had young girls living very different experiences.
The story itself was nicely done. The first half is very different from the second half for *reasons* and I just really liked seeing how the events changed these characters! There were so many instances where the themes of love and grief were intertwined. Finding love after a first is so hard and letting it go is even harder. The plot is really multiple stories in one, or rather one story that then splits off into different directions but collectively united under the threat of this looming darkness that they must face off together. There was lots of intensity and some mystery to be had and for history-lovers they might find something extra fun to love by connecting this book to reality!
I could tell Rena did her research even before I read the author’s note. There is so much history, folklore and tradition in this book to take in. This combination really sets the tone for this book as wonder. There is a lot to be said about the Jewish way of life in this time period which anchors the story in a distinct tradition and experience. There are so many journeys and hardships that this family endures throughout the book, but it does have that touch of wonder woven throughout. It’s a dark fairy tale no doubt, but there is a light up ahead that you chase as you read on and it is quite intriguing!
I’m so happy Rena included poetry that was reminiscent her storytelling in Sisters and ahhh it just made reading so much more exciting and suspenseful! This book in general is gorgeously written and phrased. It is very image-provoking and full of symbolism that I think was perfectly evoked on the cover! There is an elegance to it that weaves in history, magic and languages! I am someone who loves a good glossary so I was living for this (again!)
And here we find some questionable items…
Okay, I liked the emphasis of storytelling. There is something very meta in finding stories told with stories told with stories. There is a depth in this form of narrative. But damn the stories within the story in this book were very elaborate and stylized, and if I am being honest I am pretty sure some metaphors just went way over my head. I would get stuck trying to figure out what was the point about this story since I could figure others out with not much trouble. It was beautiful yes, but sometimes a little distracting.
And while I liked the diverging storylines, sometimes I had trouble wrapping my head around things. This reading definitely requires lots of focus to be able to keep track of who is who, who is doing what and why and where in the world it is taking place.
So why don’t I love this book as much as I loved Sisters? I think it boils down to the fact that I wanted a more exciting confrontation between the sisters and the Black mist. To be honest, the ending left me hanging. I had so much anticipation, but no closure really. Like there is more to tell, more I want to know. It ended very abruptly and quietly. And it is very much possible that this was the intention of the novel. Has this darkness truly been defeated? No. (It’s a metaphor for anti-Semitism so I believe that this unfinished feeling I feel is what I am supposed to be feeling) It was nonetheless a very subdued ending. There was lots of build up and tiny sparks, but no burning in the end.
Also there was a death that hmm did not sit well with me, but who am I to say whether a death is merited or not?
Overall this book is gorgeously written, filled with stunning imagery and wordplay that brings forth an elaborate and intricately woven tale of sisterhood, grief and destiny. While it could get a little convoluted at times, these characters and their hopes, dreams and fears will keep you hooked no matter what!
Rating: 3.75/5 Stars
Recommend?: Yes! We all need some elaborate dark fairy tales to fill our days!
Let me know what you think! Have you read this? Are you looking forward to reading it? What are some of your favourite fairy tales, dark or otherwise?