The story: When Amelia witnesses her younger brother display witch powers, she joins a convent to save his soul. However, Amelia’s loyalties are tested when she discovers an epic battle brewing between the church and entities forever linked to witches.
Opening line: ‘The sound is a dagger scraping crosshatches on a frosted windowpane, its echoes loud in this insensible room I’ve been locked in for the past few days.’
The review: ‘When Stars Die’ is a young adult dystopian paranormal romance novel set in a post-medieval world of dark romanticism, where witches are burned to death by church leaders and people dutifully worship a faceless god called Deus.
Amelia believes her young brother is a witch and secretly whisks him away to Cathedral Reims in an attempt to gain salvation by devoting their lives to the church.
Amelia endures the difficult and painful trials required to prepare women for the Professed Order of nuns, and her only comforts at Cathedral Reims are her friend Colette and a handsome priest named Oliver.
While at Cathedral Reims, Amelia questions her sanity after seeing and hearing shadowy beings that no one else seems to notice.
When a shocking tragedy ensues, Amelia’s training is cut short and her loyalties and faith are soon tested as she’s forced into life-and-death decisions involving Colette, Oliver and her family.
‘When Stars Die’ is rich with religious allegory, using the abuse, bigotry and secrecy of the church to illustrate the challenging choices that face a young woman in a world dominated by dogma.
The author Forbes perfectly captures the dizzying mind-set of an anxious teenage girl forced to grow up faster than she wants in a country that camouflages its rotting infrastructure to the detriment of society.
As a protagonist, Amelia is fragile and frustrating at times, but it’s understandable. After all, her quest revolves around the supreme spiritual mystery of humanity: death. Amelia is searching for the door to Paradise in the afterlife and hoping the established religion is not the only one holding the key.
Forbes also explores another prominent theme: the passing down of sin from parent to child. Children are born witches if their parents commit any of the Seven Deadly Sins. The theme is a powerful symbol for the cycles of abuse, alcoholism, drug use and mental illness that affect many families for generations today.
Ultimately, ‘When Stars Die’ is about finding redemption in a sinful world, and it’s a bold entry into the young adult fiction genre because it never shies away from the weighty matters of the soul.