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.
Thank you to Redhook books for gifting me a review copy of this book via Netgalley. I can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
I have begun to write my own story in these pages. The story I will tell my children.
About a girl who fell in love with a star.
About a girl whose heart was made of fire.
About a girl who found a way to plant herself in the earth and grow.
I had very little idea of what this book was going to be like. I’ve had the authors previous book on my shelf for far too long, but I just couldn’t resist requesting this on Netgalley. What I got was a tale of loss, of love, of the power of stories and how people can be blinded by religious differences. Hannah, Sarah and Levana are the three daughters of Rabbi Isaac. Blessed with powers, they each have their own path to take. That is until one fateful night that changes everything, their home, their religion and their names. But some things are not so easy to escape from and before long the sisters must decide whether to stay as they are and ignore their destiny, or to return to the old ways, something that will affect their family forever.
The strength of this book undoubtedly comes from it’s three female leads. Hannah is the eldest sister, religious, hard working and capable of making anything grow anywhere. She is also far more resilient than she is aware of, and longs for a life like her mothers, filled with love and children. Sarah feels unknown, her power is volatile and for that reason her father refuses to teach her until she learns to control it. She has never dreamed of love and marriage like Hannah, instead resenting the fact that as a woman she cannot join the Solomonars with her father and take up as his successor. Levana is a dreamer, she can follow the path of the stars and is determined to marry one, no matter how silly that may seem. All three sisters have incredible resilience, even in the direst of times and I found myself relating to every single one in different ways. There is no one character you find yourself reaching for, each of the sisters stories is so heartbreaking and real I found myself flying through the chapters, desperately wanting them to get a happy ending.
This is definitely a character driven story and I can see the authors writing style and the fact that the plot doesn’t really have a specific flow may put a lot of people off reading it. The author admits that looking into her Grandfathers past took her down a rabbit hole of Eastern European Jewish history, how they were treated, their legends and folklore, and she relies heavily on this for her story, having the characters act out these tales, and adding little bits of true history with a fantasy flare for those who know it. For that reason the story can seem a little jumpy, interweaving different tales into the story. And yet, despite all this the story does flow, the authors writing style is incredibly lyrical filled with beautiful prose and I found myself highlighting so many passage’s because of how beautifully they were written.
The book is told from the three sisters POV’s as well as passages from ‘The Book of Solomonars’, an almost narrator style interlude and stories, stories told from the parents, other characters and the sisters themselves. The stories were used to almost recount the sisters previous lives, and I can see where some people might be put off by the amount of re-telling of events in the book, but telling stories in that way, almost as if they were a fable was very evocative of the time. There was a safety in telling stories instead of outright admitting things, it gives the characters the chance to come out and say things they are too scared to for fear of persecution, but also is a kind of relief, a way of saying the things you needed to admit without fully admitting them, it was a story, nothing more.
The Light of the Midnight Stars is set in 14th century Hungary at a time when the Black Death was rife and Jew’s were blamed by many people for causing it. In fact the author shows this by having a black mist follow our characters, which was both evocative of the black death, but also antisemitism. A lot of people would assume that Jew’s were first persecuted in WW2, when in fact it had been happening for centuries before that. Some of the things that happened to these characters come from real stories, which made the book that much more harrowing. I didn’t know until the end what was fact and what was fiction, but learning about the deaths, the persecutions and knowing that they came from true stories gave the book a whole new depth. You mourn with and for these characters, and I can’t tell you how many times my heart broke when reading it.
Filled with tragedy, romance, magic and showing the resilience of those being persecuted simply for believing in a different God, The Light of the Midnight Stars took me though a rigmarole of emotions and I had to give myself time once I’d finished to properly process what I had read. I can’t see this becoming an instant favourite for people as I know some will be put off by the way the story is told, but I found it near impossible to put down. The stories told in this book will stay with me for a long time, and I will certainly be picking up anything else the author writes.