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.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Light of the Midnight Stars!
The Light of the Midnight Stars is marketed as a blend of fantasy, history and Jewish folklore. I didn’t really know what to expect from that but it turned out to be a combo that worked really well for me and I had an excellent time with it. I found it to be massively addictive: I started it one evening, planning to just dip my toe in and before I knew it I was halfway through.
The Light of the Midnight Stars tells the story of the three daughters of a rabbi. Their religion is based on Judaism but they also have magic, which they practice in secret, lest they be persecuted as witches. The eldest daughter has healing powers, like their mum, the middle daughter can summon fire and the youngest one can see the future in the stars. The narrative alternates between these three points of view, interlaced with stories they tell each other and that read like mini fairy tales, and each section starts with an epigraph from the Book of the Solomonars, which is fictional but based on actual Hebrew religious texts.
The first part of The Light of the Midnight Stars allows us to familiarise ourselves with the sisters and their lives as they’re meant to be. There’s a bit of squabbling here and there, as sisters are wont to do, and stubborn daughters do not always see eye to eye with their father who is well-meaning but traditional, but all in all they form a rather contented family that I enjoyed being a part of for a little while.
Then disaster strikes: a generous act of mercy is denounced as witchcraft and the family has to flee. Away from their community they start a new life in the woods of Wallachia. But will they be safe there, in this brave new world that is both full of possibility and empty of hope?
Most fantasy I read doesn’t have a clear factual setting, neither in space nor time, and I thoroughly enjoyed that The Light of the Midnight Stars does have that. Set in 14th-century Hungary, it transported me to a country and era I knew nothing about, but thanks to the beautifully evocative writing I felt right at home from the get-go. The use of foreign words makes it feel very authentic and although there is a glossary at the back of the book, I never needed to consult it, as the meanings were always clear from the context.
The Light of the Midnight Stars has a little something (or even a lot) for everyone. There is suspense, there’s a bit of romance. The fantasy lover in me enjoyed the fantastical bits, such as the shapeshifting and the youngest daughter’s bond with the stars, while the historical fiction lover in me enjoyed the setting and the folklore. Regular readers of my reviews will know I love books that transcend a genre and that is definitely what this book does.
There are some bold stylistic choices, most notably a non-rhyming verse form for the youngest sister’s chapters, that might not be for everyone, but I think for me it was one of the things that propelled the story forward, and me with it, that change in voice, that change in pace, something new around every corner.
The Light of the Midnight Stars is a beautifully written highly original fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you’re looking for a fantasy that’s a little bit different, one that’s rooted in both factual history and folklore & fairy tales, this is the one for you.
Massive thanks to Orbit Books for the gorgeous review copy. All opinions are still my own.
The Light of the Midnight Stars is out now in digital formats, hardcover and audio. It will be available in paperback early next year.