Book Review: The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Published by Doubleday on November 5, 2019

Series: n/a

Genre(s): fiction, fantasy

Format & Length: e-book, 487

Source: library, purchased

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Far beneath the surface of the earth, upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there is a labyrinthine collection of tunnels and rooms filled with stories. The entryways that lead to this sanctuary are often hidden, sometimes on forest floors, sometimes in private homes, sometimes in plain sight. But those who seek will find. Their doors have been waiting for them.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door, though he does not know it. He follows a silent siren song, an inexplicable knowledge that he is meant for another place. When he discovers a mysterious book in the stacks of his campus library he begins to read, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, lost cities, and nameless acolytes. Suddenly a turn of the page brings Zachary to a story from his own childhood impossibly written in this book that is older than he is.

A bee, a key, and a sword emblazoned on the book lead Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life: Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired painter, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances. These strangers guide Zachary through masquerade party dances and whispered back room stories to the headquarters of a secret society where doorknobs hang from ribbons, and finally through a door conjured from paint to the place he has always yearned for. Amid twisting tunnels filled with books, gilded ballrooms, and wine-dark shores Zachary falls into an intoxicating world soaked in romance and mystery. But a battle is raging over the fate of this place and though there are those who would willingly sacrifice everything to protect it, there are just as many intent on its destruction. As Zachary, Mirabel, and Dorian venture deeper into the space and its histories and myths, searching for answers and each other, a timeless love story unspools, casting a spell of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a Starless Sea.

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Captivating and magical, The Starless Sea is my favorite book I’ve read so far this year.

“But if he’s in a story within a story who is telling it?”

The Starless Sea was one of my most anticipated books for 2019. Going in, all I knew about it was that it was Erin Morgenstern’s second novel and it was about books, magic, and fantasy. After adoring The Night Circus, I simply couldn’t pass this up. My library had the e-book, so I promptly put it on my holds list and waited impatiently for it to be available. Well, that wait was worth it!

“And so Time goes on as it should and events that were once fated to happen are left instead to chance, and Chance never falls in love with anything for long.”

This is a book to savor, and I certainly did. So much so, that the two week loan I had through Libby was not long enough. I was only eighty percent through when it automatically returned to the library. So obviously, I purchased the hardcover and finished the book within a couple days. 

“Change is what a story is, after all.”

Morgenstern’s writing is simply beautiful. She creates wonderful atmosphere as she weaves multiple strands of story together for something that becomes more than the sum of its parts. 

“Do you believe in the mystical, the fantastical, the improbable, or the impossible? Do you believe that things others dismiss as dreams and imagination actually exist? Do you believe in fairy tales?”

I realize this isn’t exactly a straightforward review. But The Starless Sea isn’t exactly a straightforward book. It’s meandering with many layers and becomes more fantastical and meta as you go. And yet, it worked for me. I do hope that sharing my experience with reading it will intrigue you — if so, I encourage you to check it out.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

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