Title: The Light of the Midnight Stars
Author: Rena Rossner
Publication date: April 13, 2021
Genre: Historical Fantasy
One Sentence Summary: In 14th century Eastern Europe, three Jewish sisters face change, persecution, and love and loss.
Honestly, I stopped reading the description after I saw this is Jewish-inspired. I don’t know much about the religion and culture, so I thought The Light of the Midnight Stars would be a wonderful, informative read. It was initially kind of bewildering to be dropped in the Jewish world, but there’s a handy glossary at the end and Rossner did an amazing job of weaving the translations in throughout the book so it was easy to figure out. Overall, this was an incredible delight to read, very informative, and astoundingly beautiful. Something of a cross between being an historical and a fairy tale, it was magical.
The Stories of Three Sisters
The Light of the Midnight Stars follows three sisters: Hannah, Sarah, and Levana. They’re each devout to their own degrees and have a somewhat prickly, yet loving relationship with their father, Rabbi Isaac. Throughout the story, they constantly seek their futures while a darkness looms overhead and they practice their secret magic.
Hannah has a way with plants and healing, which takes her into the duchess’s home as she fights a mysterious illness. There, she meets the duchess’s son, and their relationship has the power to ripple through Hannah’s entire family.
Sarah is a daughter of fire, a daughter who wishes she were the son her father wanted. Always treated as a daughter, she’s rebellious and meets a man who gives her both spiritual happiness and a future.
Levana is the daughter of stars. She watches the sky night after night, looking for her star, but is also a dutiful daughter who clings to her religion.
The Light of the Midnight Stars is an incredibly beautiful read. It felt like a cross between a fairy tale and a series of journals kept over the years. There was something magical and beautiful in the writing that created a dreamy experience. Based on historical fact and stories, it blends history and myth.
I loved that it focuses on the three sisters, that each sister was given her own unique voice. I did get confused from time to time, but their consistency shone through. It helped that each sister’s story was based on one story or another. It was easy to keep their stories separate and to see how they spiraled together and apart. Of course, Rossner noted she took some liberties, but it all worked flawlessly together.
But it also feels like there are two distinct stories in this book. It opens with one, where the family is happily living their lives in Trnava, keeping to themselves and staving off what seems like the black plague. Everything seems quite set for the three sisters, and their lives seem fairly predictable. But then the terrible turning point happens and they flee through the forest in what felt something like a flight through fire, coming out on the other side as a completely different family. The about turn felt expected, but sudden at the same time. In many ways, the sisters felt exactly the same, but their parents and their lives had flipped. There was less of a focus on the Jewish religion and culture and it felt like the fairy tale took over.
Still, this is an incredibly beautiful read with a lot of depth and a lot of elements pulled together to form one amazing story.
The Light of the Midnight Stars is told by Hannah, Sarah, and Levana. They each see the world in their own unique ways, and it came out in how their chapters were told. Sometimes it was hard to tell if I was reading journal entries or not, but I think they each had their own unique way of telling their story. The one thing that always struck me was how young they are throughout the book. They’re all in their teens, getting married and preparing to have their own families, so I always had to remind myself that times were different and it was quite normal for a thirteen-year-old to have her own family.
Hannah, as the oldest, felt the most mature, the most settled. She’s eager to prove herself and use her powers to help. But she’s also a girl with yearnings and desires. I loved everything about her, probably because she felt the most rooted. It was easy for her to take charge when she needed to, but she could always rely on her family to support her when she needed it.
Sarah felt very much like the fiery, rebellious middle child. Not quite as dutiful as her sisters, she feels the disappointment of their father the most. But all she wants to do is be treated like a son, to learn everything a son would because it might actually be for the benefit of her growing powers. I loved that she took life in both hands and worked to create her own destiny.
Levana came across as quite a dreamy child, but that could be because she spent so much of the book staring up at the stars, finding messages hidden in them. She was actually a bit harder to get to know as many of her chapters were short and focused mostly on her obsession with the stars. But she felt the most devout, the most rooted in her religion. I wished to have gotten to know her better, but she and her story absolutely broke my heart.
14th Century Eastern Europe
Set mostly in the town of Trnava and in Wallachia, The Light of the Midnight Stars has a strong Eastern European feel to it. It also definitely felt nothing like modern times in any way, so it was quite easy to believe I was stepping into 14th century Bohemia.
Trnava was actually a little difficult to imagine, but I got a general medieval European feeling about it. Most of their time in Trnava, though, seemed to be either at home or in the surrounding forest. As a lot of the story also happens at night, it felt a little dark with a forbidding, magical essence around it, but I also really liked how quaint it felt. I definitely got a feeling of a forest hiding something extraordinary and magical.
Wallachia wasn’t too different, but I liked the duality of it being a home for anyone of any religious background while also being permeated with the fear of persecution. It also felt suitably medieval European with a nearby forest. What really set the two main locations apart, though, was the family itself and how their behaved in both. Somehow Wallachia felt brighter, probably because more of it felt like it was occurring during the day and the sisters were looking for a new, brighter future after the pain and suffering they had endured.
A Historical Fairy Tale
The Light of the Midnight Stars was such a beautiful book. I loved how history and tales were effortlessly wound together to create an amazing historical fairy tale. I loved how well and how deeply it delved into Jewish stories and Eastern European tales because it created such a rich fabric for the sisters. Everything about this book was well-crafted, though I wish it hadn’t had such a strong pre- and post- feel to it when the family fled. Still, I really enjoyed the sisters. They were unique, but still had a strong sisterly bond and family ties. Overall, an incredible story.
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Thank you to Angela Man and Redhook for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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