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Book Review: The Starless Sea

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Author Webpage: "The Starless Sea" | Erin Morgenstern

Stars: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

That's right. I gave it 6 of 5 stars. Rule # 2: Berkeley hates math. There are 12 books on my Forever. Period. Shelf. The Starless Sea brought that count to 13.

Hints of: Chronicles of Narnia, The Magicians, The Neverending Story, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Warning: This book is not for everyone. Quite like a page out of Doctor Who, "The Starless Sea" crafts beautiful stories which will abruptly end, is brutal if not realistic to it's characters and doesn't abide by the laws of time, physics & sometimes basic writing rules. So basically a fantastic fantasy novel.

Publisher Synopsis:

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.


In the months I'd planned this blog - I was always going to review my favorite book (patience, padawan). In November, I dropped by Old Town Books for a Thankgiving "roadtrip" book. In reality, I was spending a week in a cabin with limited cell service with my husband's family (very nice folks, but I'm an extroverted introvert). I needed a quiet excuse to sit in a rocking chair on the porch with my tea.

I haven't actually read Morgenstern's other book - The Night Circus (see above). This book was Old Town's December "Science Fiction Book Club" pick. Needless to say, I opened the book and I fell - quite like a young girl into a looking glass or an old wardrobe - into this subterranean world.

In the first few pages, I was very confused - which means I knew the book was going to be either phenomenal or horrendous. It started off with a collection of short stories called "Sweet Sorrows" - there was no mention of Zachary Rawlins. There was a pirate, an acolyte (went down a serious rabbit hole on that one), the son of a fortune-teller, a dollhouse.

Then along came Mr. Rawlins who picks up a mysterious book called - you guessed it - "Sweet Sorrows" in his university library. Then *TWIST* we discover Zachary is, in fact, the son of a fortune teller. Research turns into a one-way train ticket to a masquerade ball in New York, which turns into an escape for his life with two unlikely strangers into the very subterranean world Zachary has been reading about.

*Potential Spoilers*

So "The Starless Sea" weaves its tale. Amidst the overarching tale of Zachary Rawlins' adventures upon the shores of the Starless Sea, there are short stories broken into six books.

I've read a number of reviews that focus mostly on the bigger tale. But to be honest, I was much more intrigued by these books of stories:

1. Sweet Sorrows

2. Fortunes & Fables

3. The Ballad of Simon & Eleanor

4. Written In The Stars

5. The Owl King

6. The Secret Diary Of Katrina Hawkins

At first, I thought the short stories were interludes from the plot line - picked out from books in this underground world dedicated to story-telling, the protection of archives, that sort of thing. Then Zachary finds a 2nd book from one of his new stranger friends called "Fortunes & Fables". That's when I went back to the beginning - and started taking notes.

In one book, Morgenstern tells multiple tales of the eternal love affair of Time & Fate. In one setting they're a Pirate & a simple girl. In another, the Sun & the Moon. In another a Keeper and the daughter of a lost girl named Eleanor. One book tells the reader about an Inn at the "Edge of the World" - a place out of time. Later Zachary finds himself in the very same inn seeking refuge from a woman aiming to rid our world of any access to this forgotten land. A land that wants to drown, to start over and begin weaving a new pattern.

I found myself flipping back & forth hundreds of times to fully comprehend how these small stories tie into Zachary's story. How Zachary's world - our world - ties into the Starless Sea. I found myself asking which came first - our world or theirs? These books of stories or the characters which they were based upon? Who wrote those stories? What happens when they're gone?

"The Starless Sea" reminded me WHY I fell in love with reading when I was growing up - outcasts become saviors, books become reality and our world isn't quite as big, as ancient or as wise as we thought.

Also By Erin Morgenstern: The Night Circus (2011)

Drink Pairing: Bee's Knees (Gin + Lemon Juice + Honey Simple Syrup + Lemon Peel Garnish)


“It doesn't look like anything special, like it contains an entire world, though the same could be said of any book.” - The Starless Sea

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