The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – A Review

Hi! I finished my second book of the month! Reading is quite slow this month, but to be fair, December is always busy, so I don’t mind. Anyway, let’s talk about The Starless Sea.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
  • Publication date: November 5th 2019
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker
  • Genre: Fantasy

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues — a bee, a key, and a sword — that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians — it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

I apologise in advance if this review makes no sense whatsover. I will try to sum up my thoughts as coherently as possible.

The Starless Sea is a story about… stories. It’s a portal fantasy, where the main character, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, comes across a mysterious book which describes a moment from his past, decides to investigate it and is plunged into a world of stories, myths and fairytales. In those we follow pirates and bunnies, Fate and Time and many more characters. Not unlike The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Starless Sea has doors to a different world – an underground vast library, filled to the brim with fairytale like stories – and people trying to close them.

I have read The Night Circus a good few years back (2015/2016?) and it became one of my favourite books at the time (although I’m due a reread by now, as the details escape me), so this book was highly anticipated by me, and to be perfectly honest, it definitely lived up to the hype. The Starless Sea’s writing (or Morgenstern’s writing in general) has a very whimsical quality to it and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I guess it is mine.
Like The Night Circus, The Starless Sea has a minimal plot, what I described above is nearly all of it. Instead it reads like a very flowery choose your own adventure kind of a game. There’s a lot of different tiny subplots, and things that the characters need to do – mini quests, if you will. All those are intertwined with excerpts from books from The Starless Sea and its harbours, which for some would feel veey disjointed and frustrating, as they were pulling the reader back from the main story, which was already very slow paced, but which enriched the world and came together in the end.

I wouldn’t necessarily call the book a masterpiece. Have I read it at the time I read the author’s other book, when my reading taste was vastly different – I probably would’ve LOVED it. I still very much enjoyed the book and what it had to offer – and it’s a lot! The depth of it is incredible, and I know there’s a lot more to uncover that I didn’t catch the first time, if I were ever to reread it (which I think I will) and I appreciate greatly how much detail and heart Morgenstern put into it, but ultimately I prefer things with a bit more development (whether it’s plot of characters) and that’s not at all the point of this book.

If you like intricate and whimsical stories and don’t mind really slow pacing, pick it up. I think you’re gonna really enjoy it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thanks for reading! Have you read The Starless Sea? What did you think?

I’ll talk to you all soon!

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