Review | Falling Through Stars – Staci Olsen

About the Book

After crashing her dogsled into the frozen river, Ts’ellbah fears something is wrong, something deeper than the inexplicable new scar over her heart. She feels like a stranger in her own skin and struggles to remember her closest friends and family. At first, her clan is relieved that she survived the accident. But on a night when red spirit lights stain the sky like blood, Ts’ellbah suffers her first violent seizure and sees a vision in which a revered elder encounters a mythical monster and dies. When her announcement of the elder’s death proves correct, many are convinced something evil possessed her in the dark river. They believe she killed the old man and want to cast her out. Before they do, Ts’ellbah must persuade her people that their ancient enemies have indeed returned, that they are looking for something, and they’ll destroy the entire clan to find it.

Published on August 18, 2021
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I edited this book. 

When I was contacted to edit this book, I was really excited. I am a huge, huge sucker for mythological fantasy, and this one was based on mythology that was far outside of what I normally see (Greek and Norse being the most common that I edit). Alaskan mythology, though? Now that’s one I’ve never seen before so sign me up. Also, I’ve been friends with Staci on social media for a few years now, and I’ve been reading her posts about growing up in Alaska, so I knew she had a certain passion for the topic, and her experience in the location would give her the ability to bring the landscape to life in a way a lot of others might not be able to. 

I expected to like this thing. I did not expect to be swept away by it the way I was. Precious few books in all my time editing have given me a book hangover like this. 

The story starts out with confusion. After crashing her dogsled in the frozen river, Ts’ellbeh feels a bit… off. Like something’s wrong but she can’t quite put her finger on what it is. Her interactions are different as well, and it’s noticed. At first it’s brushed of as Ts’ellbeh healing, recovering physically and emotionally from a brutal crash, but soon, when she doesn’t bounce back to herself as she used to be, people start to worry. She loses friends. The relationship with her family changes a bit, and while they still love her, it’s obvious they are worried. There’s frisson of distance between her and everyone else. 

That subtle split is felt throughout the book, and while events twist and turn and carry themselves forward, Olsen expertly weaves the known with the unknown, and puts Ts’ellbeh in the middle of it all. Usually, I like having a bit of a direction as I read, some understanding of the conflict, but while there are outside conflicts, Ts’ellbeh’s real dilemma is herself. At the core of this novel is her struggle to know herself, and to be able to have a place in this world she’s found herself in after she wakes up from this brutal, tragic accident on the ice. 

In fact, the way Olsen played with this division between “pre-accident Ts’ellbeh” and “post-accident Ts’ellbeh” was nothing short of genius. This feeling of unease and a soul-deep discomfort pervade the narrative, and the reader knows what Ts’ellbeh knows, which isn’t much, and we learn as she learns: in fits and starts. Weird things happen around her, and weird things happen to her, and she can’t quite make sense of any of it. But when that “Ah ha” moment hits in the end, all the pieces fit into place and you’ll realize just how cleverly Olsen has been with dropping subtle cues, and guiding readers to this point of revelation. When I hit that point, I had to sit back and process it a bit, because suddenly the entire book took on a different light and I was just completely awestruck, to put it mildly. 

Things aren’t all wonderful, though. A lot of Ts’ellbeh’s closest relations think she might have become possessed by an evil spirit after her fall in the river, and so not only do we feel this divide between Ts’ellbeh of the past and present, but there’s also division between her and her community, felt most keenly in the loss of many of her closest friends. Isolation is real, and it is written in such a way that I felt it. It changes how she lives and interacts with her community. Her longing to be accepted is powerful, and the moments when she finds just that are extremely emotional and memorable. 

Falling Through Stars is about a lot of different things, like finding yourself in a world where you might feel lost, but more than that, this is a book about family and love. I loved how bright those threads were. I told Olsen at one point, I love how close this family unit is. I don’t think we get enough of that in fantasy. These quaint scenes with a husband and wife bickering while their child plays, and Ts’ellbeh might not know who she is or where she fits, but she never loses her devotion to her family, which is her North Star throughout the novel. Her personal arc is glorious, exploring the many different facets of friendship, family, and love that can be felt in so many different contexts.

Olsen spares no detail, and under her hand, life in this remote Alaskan landscape burns bright. I could almost smell the forest and feel the cold. I could feel the mosquitos as well. The wild is both untamed, and yet I felt a very deep respect for not only these places, but for the people who lived there and made it their home, coexisting with nature and striking a delicate balance I doubt many of us will ever fully understand. I loved the details woven throughout the book, of how food was stored, and hunted, and how people worked together, how the salmon were used throughout the year, why animal fat was necessary… it was all there, and it was fascinating. It was one of those rare books where I feel like I not only read a really good story, but I learned some important things as well. 

Mythology and lore are woven expertly throughout the story. They are always present, because it’s part of everyday life, but it’s also different than anything I’ve read before, and it’s beautiful. When it all came together in the end, I was left with this overwhelming sense of having gone full circle, but not just that, it was the right way for the book to end as well. It was the perfect finale to a story that really knocked the air out of my lungs. When I was done reading it, I was left with a unique sadness, because I’ll never get to read this book for the first time again.

Do I really need to summarize this review? It should be clear by now. I adored Falling Through Stars. Fans of books based on mythology need to pick this one up. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read all year. 

5/5 stars