The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Doubleday Canada on November 5th, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”
Shout out to Toronto for having the coolest author events! I got to listen to Erin Morgenstern talk about how she came up with the concept for The Starless Sea, she read an excerpt from the book, and she even signed my copy of it and The Night Circus!
The Night Circus was a book that took me out of my reading slump back when I was in university. I read it during the summer and it reignited my love for reading. So to say that I had high expectations for The Starless Sea would be an understatement.
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. But those who seek will find their doors have been waiting for them.
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is searching for his door — he just doesn’t know it. 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.
It leads Zachary to two people who will change the course of his life. Mirabel and Dorian guide Zachary through a battle over the fate of The Starless Sea.
I finished reading this awhile ago, but I waited to write this review. To be honest, I’m not even sure if I’m going to stick with this 3.5 bubble tea rating.
There’s no denying that Morgenstern is an excellent writer.
If you’ve read The Night Circus, you know that this woman knocks it out of the park with her sentences. Her writing is lyrical, magical, and beautiful. I could get lost in the way she describes a setting.
She owns her craft. She should be bragging to everybody about how she’s able to hook you in despite pages and pages of detailed descriptions of things. I was very much invested in The Starless Sea. But did I “get” it? I don’t know. I’m left scratching my head about whether or not I actually enjoyed it.
I loved getting to know these characters (and or metaphors as she calls them in the book). I was thoroughly in it to see where they all ended up in this crazy maze of a story.
But ultimately, I felt disappointed by the book as a whole. I can appreciate what Morgenstern was trying to do. It was like reading a choose your own adventure story with multiple possible endings. It really did feel like we were in a maze with these characters as they lived out their endings.
But I just couldn’t keep up. Not only were there timeline jumps, there were also fairy tales that Morgenstern weaved in throughout the book. It just felt a bit too complicated and convoluted.
It feels like you’re putting in a lot of work for little payoff.
It’s hard to see where Morgenstern is leading readers. You really don’t find out until past the 50 percent mark. That’s a long time to start getting some clues as to what’s going on. You have to really trust Morgenstern, which I do.
I just think that this book could’ve used some cleaning up. I don’t think it needed to be that long, I could’ve done with fewer alternate versions of these fairy tales, and I wanted more time to sit with the ending of the characters’ journeys. There was a lot of buildup and then little time to deconstruct the climax of the story.
Morgenstern said she wanted to write a love letter to stories and she definitely did! I appreciated all the literary references and there’s even a reference to a bookstore here in Toronto! It very much felt like a book tailormade for bookworms.
I have a feeling that I’d have a deeper appreciation for this book if I reread it. But I just don’t know if I can dedicate that much time to reading it again. I understand what she was trying to do, and I commend her for writing such a beast of a novel with so many intricate and interconnected details. It just didn’t work for me and I don’t feel as connected to it as The Night Circus.
But if you love puzzles, an almost Inception-like story, or are yearning for those days where you used to devour choose your own adventure books, I’d pick this up!