Book Review: The Starless Sea

Book Review

The Starless Sea

By: Erin Morgenstern

5 Stars

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.

Stories within stories within stories all connected.

I loved reading this book. While I tend to binge read, I could not do that with this one. I’d find I’d have to put it down and go away to let it simmer and melt in my brain before returning.

The narrative was so vulnerable. Like the layer we hold ourselves on when speaking to each other in real life, that layer where fear of being misunderstood and judged lives large, was peeled back and a whole new kind of communication was established. I loved how each seemingly unrelated nuance actually added more layers to the entirety. If forced to look up concepts in a dictionary, like you might a word or phrase, this jumble of tales is what you might find because every sidebar enriched the rest.

While in these pages, I felt like I could believe in fairies and unicorns and real magic again and for even a moment, I was sad that maybe I had missed my door without the second chance Zachary received. That maybe this wasn’t some story, but a recount of what we all might find.

I loved how the personal relationships mattered. Pairs grounding each other to “reality,” to motivate beyond a bigger picture none were entirely clear on.

Around half-way through, the book stumbles a bit. There was a point when I lifted my head and wondered if maybe we weren’t about to fall into redundancy. But don’t worry. That’s where it picks up and the pieces start really coming together.

Such a richly crafted chronicle that reminds us the end is never the last, and all beginnings stem from what was, to become what might be.

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