The Light of the Mid­night Stars

  • Review
By – April 12, 2021

There are princes and princess­es aplen­ty in Rena Rossner’s new fan­ta­sy nov­el, The Light of the Mid­night Stars, and enough of the fan­tas­ti­cal to sat­is­fy the most ardent Grimm fan. But just because a sto­ry starts with Once-upon-a-time doesn’t mean that we are guar­an­teed a fairy­tale hap­pi­ly-ever-after end­ing. It is the sense of sus­pense — and the fragili­ty of the world the book explores — that will keep read­ers’ imag­i­na­tions churning.

The sto­ry fol­lows a tra­di­tion­al folk­tale out­line: an emi­nent rabbi’s three daugh­ters search for true love and iden­ti­ty in four­teenth cen­tu­ry Hun­gary. The eldest daugh­ter is pos­sessed of an amaz­ing abil­i­ty to heal the sick. She is tak­en by the region­al prince to heal his moth­er, the queen, who is suf­fer­ing from an ill­ness feared to be caused by a plague the author calls the Black Mist, which we know as the Black Death, which killed many mil­lions of peo­ple in the late Mid­dle Ages. Ross­ner skil­ful­ly weaves his­to­ry into the fan­tas­ti­cal here, and through­out the book.

We wit­ness the love that devel­ops between the eldest daugh­ter and the prince. When he renounces his wealth and fam­i­ly in order to be accept­ed as a suit­or in his betrothed’s com­mu­ni­ty, we feel the impor­tance of his choice to be with the woman he loves. This per­son­al sac­ri­fice brings only tragedy, how­ev­er, as the rabbi’s entire fam­i­ly is forced to flee per­se­cu­tion from the Roy­als when their wrath and hatred for their son’s new reli­gious beliefs tear apart the entire Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and the place they call home. Now we see the after­math of hate and how it will shape each sister’s abil­i­ty to trust oth­ers. Their lives will nev­er be the same; hence­forth they will be forced to hide their iden­ti­ties, reli­gion, and mag­i­cal abil­i­ties from a pop­u­la­tion that has shown itself quick to harm those who are different.

Both younger sis­ters fol­low their own jour­neys in pur­suit of love, regard­less of per­son­al sac­ri­fice. The mid­dle sis­ter tries to rec­on­cile the loy­al­ty she feels to a suit­or even though she doesn’t know if he is still alive, while the youngest strug­gles to deny the atten­tions of an accept­able” suit­or, while being attract­ed to and seduced by a fan­tas­ti­cal star man” who vis­its her at night.

Mag­i­cal pow­ers, reli­gious free­dom, a woman’s place in soci­ety, these are the novel’s con­cerns. Read­ers will feel a con­nec­tion to the time and place, as it serves as a con­stant reminder of what we fight for dai­ly — free­dom to be our­selves and to choose our own destinies.

Discussion Questions