Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
I think I saw The Wide Starlight on Edelweiss originally, but it’s been on my TBR for a good year and a half. I wasn’t able to go to the library last week, so I’ve been trawling the Kindle library for books to read, and came upon it again. To my surprise, it captured my heart—my first 5-star read of 2022!
Enjoy this week’s review!
As a child, Eline Davis lived with her parents in Svalbard, raised on her mother’s fairytales. One of those tales cautioned to never whistle at the Northern Lights, lest they sweep you away to parts unknown. But Eline’s mother did just that, and she disappeared.
Ten years later, Eline and her father are living in Cape Cod. Now, the Northern Lights will be visible where she is, and she takes the opportunity to whistle and bring her mother back. Her mother returns, but vastly changed from the mother Eline knew and loved. Along with her return come strange, unexplainable occurrences—strange letters in the bushes, narwhals in the bay, and cloaked figures stalking her at every turn. The only way to make things right is to return to her old home in Svalbard, but what awaits her their may prove more dangerous than what the Northern Lights have in store.
TW/CW: loss of a loved one, emotional abuse, grief, animal death, depression, fire, near-death situations, description of a corpse
I am stunned. I am absolutely in awe. I picked this book up just because I needed a little fantasy to tide me over, but The Wide Starlight ended up being my first 5-star read of 2022!
The Wide Starlight is exactly what magical realism should be. It toes the line between reality and fairytale with the kind of ease I would have never expected from a debut novel. Lesperance’s writing is all-consuming and beautifully dreamlike, calling to mind the fairytale books that our parents told us as bedtime stories. And like an old fairytale, it balances raw reality with all things magical and cryptic. It’s the kind of book to get lost in.
On the subject of Lesperance’s writing, it’s also wonderfully immersive. With every word, I could see Eline’s green house at the top of the world and feel the chill of the Arctic wind at my cheeks. (Granted, it was chilly and snowing outside when I read this…nowhere near how freezing Svalbard is, I imagine) Every word paints a vivid picture, whether it’s of Eline’s harsh world or the stories she was raised on. Each character, from main characters like Eline to the minor characters that rarely appeared, had such an extensive degree of realism, and none of them felt like afterthoughts—everything was fleshed out.
For me, some of the best descriptions came through in Eline’s fairytale flashbacks. Not only did they tie up the loose ends within the world, the fairytales within gave new life to the story of Eline’s family. All of the stories are from Norwegian folklore, but I was particularly interested in the tale of Prince Lindworm—my dad mentioned a similar story recently, but the one he told me about was an Irish folktale. Archetypes are strange little beasts.
There’s also a consistent suspense that never dies down; Lesperance expertly built and maintained tension throughout the novel. Although the plot itself had a relatively moderate pace, Lesperance continually kept me on my toes with obstacles both real and supernatural. Magical realism novels generally keep a slow to medium pace, and it’s difficult to keep the plot moving, but Nicole Lesperance did so with ease.
But what brings The Wide Starlight together, in the end, is its emotional weight. Grief, depression, and generational trauma are ever-present in this novel, but Lesperance handled them in a way that was deeply grounded in emotion but still conscious of its reality. Eline’s journey with grappling with who her mother and grandmother were was a powerful one, and the conclusion she came to was equally powerful—sometimes grief clouds our memories of the people we love. Alongside that, there’s a powerful message about generational trauma; Eline’s mother’s side of the family is fraught with emotional abuse and depression, but not all of it is as one-sided as she once perceived it to be. Ultimately, Eline’s journey leads to forging her own path, informed by her past but not too rooted in it. The Wide Starlight is a book that is certain to stick with you. Certainly still sticking with me.
All in all, a deeply powerful and emotional piece of magical realism that melds fairytales with the harsh realities of family and coping with grief. You don’t want to pass this one by. 5 stars!
The Wide Starlight is a standalone and Nicole Lesperance’s debut novel. She is also the author of the Nightmare Thief duology (The Nightmare Thief and The Dream Spies) and the forthcoming novel The Depths, which is slated for release this October.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!