Review: “The Starless Sea” by Erin Morgenstern

I want ALL of the covers, dang it!

“Some enjoyed them and others did not and that is the nature of a story.”

It’s certainly no secret that I absolutely loved Erin Morgenstern’s first work, The Night Circus. I think everyone did; it was magical and mysterious and exuded such a distinct feel to it, that it was highly disappointing to finish and leave that world behind.

The Starless Sea is no different, though I can already guess that it will be much more polarizing in opinion as compared to its predecessor. 

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is our hero of the tale and there is not much special about him at all. He goes to school like everyone and lives life on the outside looking in until one day, Zachary discovers an ancient book with a chapter written about him. Not just him however; the book contains chapters and chapters of fantastical tales that at first glance may seem unrelated, but interconnect when you least expect them. Investigating this book leads Zachary on a hunt through the world of The Starless Sea down below, where the lines between life and fiction blur.  

This book is an ode to storytelling. It is layered with metaphor and foreshadowing and winding descriptions that attempt to wholly encapsulate you in a thin world between real life and The Starless Sea. It’s succinct when it needs to be, meandering where it wants to be, but it is unapologetically itself in the idea that stories are what make life interesting. 

Zachary Ezra Rawlings (I still don’t know why his name is important enough to need to be repeated at every chapter), is so ordinary that it hurts. He studies video games for god’s sake. And yet his normality coupled with his desire and curiosity for what lies beyond regular life makes you keenly root for him for what chapters he gets. The characters he interacts with, mainly Mirabell and Dorian, are both wrapped in a mysterious air. I wish there had been a bit more focus on the relationships formed between them all but what you do get, especially towards the last fourth of the book, does make you understand that these three were fated (hehe) to find each other and help each other. 

The pacing is odd– and it’s meant to be– because in between our main storyline with Zachary are little stories, some which are finished in a chapter, most which weave together throughout the entire book. The stories are definitely relevant to the main plot– they’re used to give insight into how the world works; the generations of people like Zachary who have either been born into this strange world, or somehow wandered into it. And nearly all of them do become integral to the final journey.

Speaking of plot, I’ll be the first to say that the plot is confusing. Even at the end of the book, I was scratching my head trying to figure out what just happened. But I’m oddly okay with not having every question answered. I’m content to let my imagination take over.

Overall, this is going to be a story in which people either love it or won’t be able to finish it. It’s weird and it’s long, and it rambles on into itself just like The Night Circus did. But while the Night Circus’s main plot never really wavered, the through-line of The Starless Sky isn’t as clear. If you have patience and are willing to spend the time immersing yourself in this world and all of its moving parts, you will love it for its weirdness. If you are looking for a straightforward story with plotlines that lead from A to B and all questions answered, this is certainly not the book for you.


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