The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

three stars black
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 512
Publisher: Doubleday Books
Release Date: November 5, 2019

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.

The Starless Sea is the hotly anticipated second novel by Erin Morgenstern. Her debut novel, The Night Circus, was beautifully written and an almost instant success leaving The Starless Sea with big shoes the fill. Unfortunately, The Starless Sea misses the mark.

As with The Night Circus, Morgenstern’s writing is like a dream. It’s lyrical and whimsy as readers follow along an adventure steeped in literature and magic. Morgenstern’s writing is the only reason I finished reading the novel. It’s compelling in a way I couldn’t get enough even when I wasn’t enjoying the story.

The biggest issue I had with The Starless Seas is its lack of explanation. There’s a lot going on in the novel that is never fully explained making the plot difficult to follow. Honestly, if someone were to ask me for a detailed plot summary, I would have a hard time because it’s so confusing.

The characters are underdeveloped and have no distinct personalities. The main character, Zachary, is a bland vessel for readers to see themselves in. The only real aspect to him is his sexuality, which Morgenstern doesn’t do enough with.

On a similar note, the relationships are also poorly developed. There are declarations of love that seemingly develop from nothing. There is little to no development between characters in a romantic sense.

Overall, The Starless Sea, in my opinion, is a failure in execution of an engaging idea. This book has everything I want, but still failed to capture my attention and love.


Have you read The Starless Sea? What did you think?

6 thoughts on “The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

  1. Great review Nadine! I was really excited for this one – but a lot of reviewers have had similar thoughts. I think I’ll probably end up skipping it. Or putting t off for a long time.

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