‘The Forest of Stars’ is an enjoyable, if dark in places, middle grade novel about a floating girl who finds a home in a magical circus, but finds her new home under threat from a hidden foe. The mystery elements are relatively predictable, but the atmosphere and found family elements are lovely.
All her life, Louisa has been hidden away by her mother. Her bones are full of too much air, so she glides around without her feet touching the ground – and a wind too strong could blow her away, just like her father when she was young. When her mother dies, twelve-year-old Louisa is left to fend for herself – but the world is dangerous for those who are different. However, her fortune changes when she receives an invitation to a mysterious carnival. The carnival is full of those who are different like her. Louisa finds herself torn between making the carnival her home and going in search of her missing father. Her decision is complicated when a mysterious magic starts attacking the carnival’s residents, leaving Louisa and her friends to track down a hidden foe.
Louisa is a sweet, naive girl, loyal to her friends but hindered by a lack of knowledge of the world. She also has little to no control over her magic, regularly drifting into the sky then finding herself unable to come back down. For a child so young, Louisa has experienced a lot of grief,and the way this is handled – with a twist of fabulism – is excellent. Louisa isn’t the strongest protagonist, but she’s likeable enough and her determination to do the right thing is admirable.
The fabulism is the strongest part of the book. The magic those at the carnival possess, from Louisa’s floating to Mercy’s control over shadows, is great, but there are other elements too, like the love bugs which appear any time anyone is sad. All these elements are well woven into the narrative, adding to the atmosphere. The fabulism has a darker twist than in many books – rather than a fortune teller, there’s a misfortune teller – and this works well, lending gothic undertones without ever being too much for a child.
The main weakness of this story is the plot. There are two core mysteries – Louisa’s missing father and the mysterious foe targeting the circus – and both are relatively obvious from an early stage. Admittedly, this is a children’s story, so the elements being obvious to an adult is not necessarily a bad thing, but the hints dropped could be more subtle. The denouement is still satisfying, but it lacks the shock factor that would really elevate it to the next level.
Overall, ‘The Forest of Stars’ is a fun, creative children’s book with some lovely found family elements. Its not the most original storyline, but the magical elements make it an enjoyable read.
Thanks to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review
Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 11th May 2021