Book Review: THE STARLESS SEA by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea.png

Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3.5 stars
Series: Standalone


the starless seaFar 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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


This is a gorgeous read, but very slow.

The writing is lyrical and rich, but very literary. My definition of a literary book is one where the writing style takes precedence over the story. Some people would call it a pretentious book and style, and for me it was bordering on it at times. Every word feels so deliberately chosen to call attention to the writing. This does mean the turns of phrase are very nice, and there is a dreamlike, ethereal feel to the book as the story gradually unfolds in the dying remnant of the underground library and on the Starless Sea itself.

However, this is often at the expense of forwards momentum.

It took me ages (relative to normal pace) to crawl through the first half of the book, considering I had hours or uninterrupted reading. The stories and book extracts between chapters only cement this feel, because it takes a while for them to be relevant and they’re full of asides and metaphors.

Friends told me that the second half picks up, and it does. The story takes more priority over style in the second half, as there are three stories being told in parallel – Zachary, Dorian and Kat gets a say through diary snippets.

The reader is expected to work while reading – it’s not one to read while sleepy and half awake. This is main through the stories, interludes and so forth between chapters. They might be backstory. They could be an idea or a hint of what’s to come. However, Erin Morgenstern trusts the reader to take note and at least recall the main points when they come into play later as she doesn’t spell everything out again, only the barest bones.

This is not a book for everyone, and it’s not pretending to be. If you like literary books, where the style is dominant and books that require the reader to be involved in piecing it together, then this is a book for you.

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