THE STARLESS SEA
BY ERIN MORGENSTERN
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, at its core, is a story about a love of stories. It’s very much a book for those who don’t need concrete or definitive answers. You can read as much or as little into things as you want. Each time you read it though you’ll be picking up on different connections that you might’ve missed before. It’s very fantastically written with this magical place of stories that leaks into the real world on occasion.
It admittedly took me quite a bit to get into this book. I found myself not eager to read Zachary’s parts at first. I was more into Sweet Sorrows or the other stories told in between. Zachary Ezra Rollins was not boring though. He is the son of a fortune teller who loves his sidecars and is in grad school to design video games, which he uses to tell stories and seems to choose his isolation from others. He one day comes across a mysterious book in his college library and from there his story is finally ready to start.
The Starless Sea was simultaneously like and unlike The Night Circus. The pacing was the same; slow and languid. There was also that same touch of romance that somehow becomes the whole story without you even noticing and the writing was just as spectacular. I’d say that’s where the similarities end though. At its core The Starless Sea is a book about a love for stories, both writing and telling them. It’s complex and deep while also being quite transparent at times. It’s a journey that I was never quite sure of where it was going.
There is quite the cast of characters though, all of which were well written. Not one felt forgotten or two-dimensional. We have Dorian, the mysterious storyteller (whose name we never truly learn), Mirabel with her pink hair and artistic talents, and a myriad of cats. That’s just naming a few though. There were stories within stories of this book but it never felt jarring switching between them. The transitions were smooth but I was definitely on edge trying to figure out how they were all connected. I also felt like I was constantly waiting for Zachary’s story to take off. This didn’t actually happen until the last half of the book.
The end was very much a non ending and while I understand it I wasn’t happy about it. That being said though it very much fit the story. I’ll get over it obviously but I do wish I had a more final feeling ending. I don’t know how to go about recommending this one so I’ll leave that up you to decide. What I will say that I listened to the audiobook and it very much felt like a fever dream bedtime story.