Hello Humans! I have Asha from A Cat, A Book, and a Cup of Tea to thank for today’s book, she was kind enough to gift me with a copy of The Starless Sea at Christmas time and I finally got round to reading it!
How did it go? Could this book live up to the lofty heights of The Night Circus? Let me share my thoughts!
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.
Kicking things off with the characters. This book has a fairly small cast of characters, particularly in a story with so much scope – which I think helps to keep things a little more contained as the story is a little…out there. The primary focus of the book is Zachary, though you get snippets of other characters’ perspectives here and there. I enjoyed Zachary as a character, I thought it was cool that Morgenstern opted to make him a student of video game narrative as opposed to leaning into the somewhat tired English lit student trope. It meant that this book retained a quite contemporary feel even when in very unusual and quite historic (in feel) settings. I also liked the casual way that Zachary’s gay identity is presented in the book, it felt incredibly natural and is a pretty good example of writing a story with a queer character (as opposed to someone who isn’t necessarily the best person to do so writing a queer story). There are other fun characters we meet along the way, I thought Mirabel was a lovely nuanced character and the rest of the supporting cast were great, I would happily have had more from them but this book was fairly complicated as is. I think it fell apart for me a little towards the end where new characters were suddenly brought in – but I had a problem with the end of the book on the whole, as you’ll likely get from the rest of this review.
As I’ve hinted, this book is a little odd. It’s not your typical ‘boy finds a magical library’ kind of book. Where The Night Circus skips around time but has quite a tight focus on one magical contest, The Starless Sea feels much more abstract in its storytelling. It’s a book about stories and about those that keep them safe but it certainly poses more questions than it answers. I think that lack of focus will either sell the book or spoil it depending on personal preference.
What Erin Morgenstern does best, in my opinion, is craft atmosphere. There are a number of moments in this book that just jump off the page, you get completely immersed in these settings, every sense is touched. Once again I find myself longing to be at the parties she describes and I’m kind of bummed that nothing that great could ever exist – and those are the things that dwell in the realms of possibility! It’s those descriptive moments that stood out to me in this story and that make this book feel special, I think they lift the more abstract moments from feeling just odd to feeling magical.
Should you read this? I think it isn’t as strong as The Night Circus but it certainly holds a lot of the same things that made the previous book amazing. It does fall apart a little towards the end, where the plot threads converge and everything gets a little messy and confusing. But if you think this is just another ‘book about books’ think again. This is a book about stories and all the power they hold over us.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received this book as a gift, all opinions are my own.
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What say you? Will you be picking this up or have you already finished? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!