Let me preface this by saying that I REALLY did not enjoy Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, The Night Circus. I found it to be extremely boring with a pointless plotline. So that had me a little concerned going into this book but I’m happy to say that I didn’t have that issue at all with The Starless Sea.
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.
If you’re familiar with Morgenstern’s writing style, you’ll know that it’s very descriptive and flowery. She has a way with prose that almost lends itself more to the magical realism side of fantasy. I found it to be too much in The Night Circus, but I feel like it was toned down to just the right amount in this book. It felt more whimsical than anything else, which went perfectly with the plot of the story. It wasn’t overdone, nor seemed out of place. I found it especially enjoyable during the little interlude chapters, that were mini stories from the books mentioned in the novel. I thought this was a very clever way to move the plot along, as it just teased you with what was actually going on. It helped add to the mystery element of the overall story, as you tried to understand how each tale was tied to Zachary’s journey.
Speaking of Zachary, he is a very interesting main character. I feel like the majority of introverted book lovers will immediately connect with him, as we all tend to feel more at home curled up with a good book than mingling with a crowd at a bar. I really enjoyed watching him come out of his shell as the book progressed, especially when it came to him trying to learn more about the Starless Sea. I also enjoyed watching him develop new relationships with Mirabel and Dorian. And sweet Dorian.. he is very much the mysterious man that we all secretly want to find and fall in love with. He has a roguish sense of adventure and I really enjoyed how he would bring out a new side to Zachary. They’re dynamic was really interesting, though I have to say that I maybe enjoy Zachary’s relationship with Mirabel even more. They seem to understand each other on a very deep level. I would personally be okay with a book over them just talking the entire time.
I think the only issue with this story that some might struggle with is that it can be a little hard to follow. Morgenstern is really playing with all of the different elements that each of the mini-stories brings to the overall plot. I feel like a lot of it can be very abstract and doesn’t quite say, “Yes this part is important. Remember me!”, which can lead you to forgetting certain things or not fully grasping how important they will be later on in the book. Personally, I really liked that part. I liked trying to make the connections throughout the book and figure out what each story was really about or how it would affect the ending. It was basically a puzzle and one that I truly enjoyed. If you don’t really like ambiguity in your endings or having anything not explicitly laid out for you in terms of what it means, you may not enjoy this book as much. I feel like the ending was left open to interpretation for each reader, which isn’t something you see very often.
Overall, I really loved this book. It was full of truly memorable quotes and constantly had me in awe of how Morgenstern was able to make some many different stories connect to the overall plot. Like I mentioned, I don’t think this book is for everyone but I do think it is worth giving it a try if you’re even a little bit interested. It may surprise you just like it did me.
Final Verdict: 5/5 Stars
Have you read The Starless Sea? If so, what did you think about it? How do you think it compares to The Night Circus? Do you like books that make you think?