The Starless Sea Book Review! // there are…no words

Hi friends! I am so excited to share my thoughts on this book because…wow*.

*oh also i’ve been reading it for six months. that’s definitely cause to celebrate.

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.

I’m pretty sure Erin Morgenstern is actually a magical fairy. That’s the only explanation for how beautifully she crafts words, with metaphors inside of metaphors inside of metaphors. I went into this expecting a tale of libraries, with gorgeous prose. Instead, I got a beautifully written story full of more than just libraries: full of fairy-tales and worlds and the lost being found and the found being lost. It is beyond enchanting.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins, friends. What a main character. He loves video games, is a total introvert, doesn’t even really want to be a hero, and AH I LOVE HIM. Like, give me more main characters like that. His friend Kat, also totally adores video games and knits a Ravenclaw scarf for him*. One of my favorite aspects, however, is that we’re never fully inside his perspective. Rather, the reader is placed in an almost omniscient point of view. That never takes away from Zachary as a character though!

*uh…these details are super irrelevant. why do i ramble about such useless things.

let’s bullet-list the other (memorable) characters!

  • I already talked about Kat, in the chaotically useless fashion that y’all are probably used to by now. Still, she’s incredible.
  • Dorian low-key reminded me of that prince from Throne of Glass at first, but gradually, I was able to shift my thoughts to this new character. He’s brave and mysterious and I liked him very much.
  • Mirabel is such a queen. A pink-haired, no-nonsense icon. She’s so smart, and the reveals surrounding her character? I did not see them coming at all? I loved her tbh.

“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”

I know a lot of people struggle with Erin Morgenstern’s writing. It’s not merely purple prose, rich with ideas and similes. Her stories are told in an abstract way, the tangled threads of plot refusing to follow a linear line. That’s partly why her books are either TOTALLY for you or you despise them with every fiber of your very bony being*. Personally, this makes me want to reread for every scattered hint, every vague clue hidden throughout that adds yet another layer of depth to the story as a whole. But I can totally understand why many people wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s both confusing and satisfying.

*in retrospect, i was going for “your very bones ” or “your very being” but this came out instead oops i’ve been reading a bit too much horror…

As for the plot…

i understood none of it!!!!! yay me!!!!

Okay that’s not technically true, I understood the basics. But know for a fact that because I read this over such a long period of time, I’m missing quite a bit of the more subtler threads. However, that doesn’t really bother me? In fact, that makes me even more excited to reread this, because I know my love for this novel will continue to grow. When Zachary finds Sweet Sorrows, a book telling his own story among others, we also get little snippets of stories that each end up playing a much larger role in the grand scheme of the book. The unique originality, combined with the enchanting dreaminess of Morgenstern’s writing, made each story feel like it could have originated from the Brothers Grimm*.

*and, since we can’t have dark things, consequently made extremely family-friendly by disney!!!

“The stag is a shot left untaken. An opportunity lost

Stolen like a kiss.”

Good standalone fantasy is hard to write. However, The Starless Sea is a beautiful example of how incredible such fantasies can be. After finishing it, I feel as if I just went on a long adventure, and I need to relive it to truly begin to understand the importance of it. This is a book I believe I will enjoy more and more with each reread. It’s a breathlessly complex tale of imagination and wonder, myths and legends, metaphors and magic. It’s a story that transcends normality. A book that goes beyond words.

That’s it! Tell me:

Have you read this?

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14 thoughts on “The Starless Sea Book Review! // there are…no words

  1. I loved the starless sea! With the style, I definitely had to sit with it for awhile after I finished the book, but now that I am a month removed I can confidently say that I loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

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